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Front Page - Friday, December 20, 2019

Holiday warmth returns with rituals, ‘real’ tree

There was a time when Dec. 26 was my favorite day of the year for one simple reason: It’s as far as possible from another Christmas.

Various factors contributed to my grinchiness, not the least of which was a seeming talent for buying people the wrong gift. First case in point: a gyroscope for my youngest brother, then 5. I’d always wanted one myself.

“Yuck,” he said upon opening it.

Courtesy is not a skill common among 5-year-olds. Brutal honesty is their trademark.

Another gift goof was an alarm clock I once got for Daddy. His hearing had gotten sketchy, but this clock’s shrill, siren call was supposed to penetrate the most stubborn of eardrums and stir anyone who wasn’t stone cold deaf.

Apparently, though, it was set at just the perfect pitch to be undetectable by Daddy’s flawed ears. He shrugged and smiled, apologetically.

Frustration brought a bad word to my mind.

The fact that I often made out like a bandit as a receiver of gifts only increased my feelings of guilt. Plus, let’s face it, Christmas loses a little luster once you’ve been made aware that Santa isn’t actually involved. I’m still a bit bummed about that bit of news, delivered by my Uncle Jimmy. He was only two months older but always seemed a step or two ahead.

The truth, however, did not set me free. As a succession of younger brothers came along at widely spaced intervals, I had to maintain the pretense of a jolly old elf until past my college years.

Further dashing my Yule spirit was the fact that since that Santa bombshell I’d “outgrown” any sense of connection between Christmas and religion. I was far too intelligent to be taken in any longer by those societal myths.

Is a portrait of a jerk forming in your head? Let’s just say that open-mindedness was not a strength.

Time, however, has a way of knocking the rough edges off even the grumpiest of grumps. An eventual return to religion, albeit not the one of my childhood, has infused me with a renewed appreciation for the traditions of the season.

I might not buy the full biblical representation of the Bethlehem birth story, with its guiding star, wise men and livestock bystanders. But I recognize the value of faith in its deeper significance and so don’t quibble over details.

I’m still a terrible gift giver. But I addressed that with my parents in their final years by abandoning the effort to give them something they could use and opting instead for stuff they could eat.

My brothers and I, including the gyroscope recipient, have by mutual agreement long avoided any exchange. And I encourage, though not always successfully, that approach with extended family members.

I don’t, of course, extend that practice to my wife. But we ease the process annually by providing lists of items that would be acceptable as gifts, sometimes with helpful internet shopping links.

And I’m game for various other little rituals surrounding the season. This year, we welcome a real tree into our new Nashville home after assorted disruptions forced several improvised celebrations. Along with that tree comes a return of the festive evening of decorating accompanied by spiked eggnog, Chex mix snacking and Christmas songs on the DVD player.

(Three musts to hear for the season: “Blue Christmas” by Elvis, “White Christmas” by Bing and “Happy Christmas” by John Lennon.)

Cards will go out, even though most folks no longer reciprocate. The real Grinch’s transition will be viewed on Christmas Eve, and a Dr. Seussian roast beast meal will be consumed with family. That will be followed on Christmas Day by a budding new Nashville tradition of goose with friends

And this year, Kayne even prevailed upon me to hang a wreath on the door of our new home. It lights up. How’s that for a visual metaphor?

It’s almost as if my heart has grown three sizes, or something.

Merry Christmas to all.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com