Yeah, not much I can add to this story…
The season of sap and nostaliga is upon us, and I am in my element. It’s a Wonderful Life, One Magic Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, The Christmas Carol – more, more! I’m still not satisfied! Make me weep, make me sniffle, put a lump in my throat, give me shameless, unapologetic schmaltz. I want hard-fought happy endings. I want to be reminded of the power of love and the value of hope. I want to see that look on Jimmy Stewart’s face when he realizes that his life has made a difference; I want to be with Mary Steenburgen when she watches the husband she thought she’d lost come around the corner and back into her life – reminding her of what’s really important; I want to, once again, discover a grin on my face as the judge pushes that mountain of letters to Kris Kringle off his judge’s bench; and I want to hear little Tiny Tim ‘s voice saying, “God bless us, everyone!”
The best schmaltzy Christmas movies aren’t about the material trappings of Christmas, but help us see what really matters – community, friendship, love, forgiveness, redemption, generosity, good will to all men. These movies all have a message that stays with us long after the Christmas gifts have been unwrapped, and the New Year toasted.
Call me an incorrigible Schmaltz-monger. I ain’t apologizing.
May The Schmaltz be with you!
My dear Humoristian hooligans,
For six months I saw their faces on the cover of every magazine as I went through the checkout line at the local supermarket. For six months I wondered who the heck this couple was and why everyone was so interested in them. It was perplexing to me. She looked nice enough – had a nice smile and kind of pretty eyes, and her husband looked like he wasn’t a bad fellow, but… well, nothing about this pair really seemed to stand out to me. It took me six months to care enough to finally ask the supermarket clerk, “Who is this Kate person, and who is Jon, and why are they so famous?”
The clerk started laughing. “That,” she told me, pointing to the blonde on the cover of the magazine, “is Kate Gosselin, and her husband is Jon Gosselin. They are famous because they have eight children and a reality show.”
“Oh,” I said, pretending that I understood.
And then came the Kardashians. Now their faces replaced Kate’s and Jon’s on every cover. They were pretty, I guess – but what, I wondered, did they actually DO? “Oh,” the cashier said, “They’re rich, and they have their own reality show.”
“Uh,” I kind of grunted, non-committally, nodding my head like I knew what she was talking about.
The truth is, I was still pretty clueless about the whole “reality show” deal at that time. But that has now changed, and I’ve come to see the possibilities for a boatload of financial gain from having one’s own reality show. The way I see it, one doesn’t need to have any actual talent or anything to succeed in the reality show business. One simply has to have a good agent and the willingness to put her worst foot forward in public.
Which brings me to my purpose in writing this letter to you.
I propose, me hail, hardy Hooligans, that we start our own reality show. Ohmygosh. Can you not picture it?
I, of course, would be the star of the whole vehicle. I am the obvious choice: First of all because, like the Kardashian sisters and Kate, my first name (Karen) starts with a “K”; and secondly, because my obvious physical charms will, I’m sure, attract tens, maybe even a couple of tens, of viewers – I mean, throwing away all false modesty here – I know my luxuriant eyebrows and noble schnoz would make even Groucho proud. And okay, so maybe the luxuriant eyebrows and noble schnoz are but plastic and faux fur – but look at the Kardashian beauties and Kate and tell me they, too, aren’t artificially enhanced. True, they maybe chose to take a little different route to cosmetic enhancement – but still…
Our reality show would follow the day-to-day drama of our lives – the passion and the power-struggles, the heartbreak and victories, and stuff. It’d be Emmy-winning material, for sure. I’ll let you each figure out what you’d bring to the proverbial table, or add to the proverbial stone soup – but for my part, I think I’d focus on the difficult choices I am constantly forced to make in my day-to-day life: Do I step on the scales so soon after Thanksgiving or do I give it a few days? Should we have turkey enchiladas, turkey lasagna, turkey sandwiches, or turkey chowder for dinner? Should I don the Groucho glasses WITH the mustache, or the Groucho glasses WITHOUT the mustache? Important stuff like that.
I hope you will join me, my Humoristian comrades, as we rake in the big bucks just for being ourselves. Well. With maybe just a little artificial enhancement.
Groucho Karen Wingoov the First. (And, I’m pretty sure, the Only.)
“Silent night, holy night, All is calm, all is bright… “ – Joseph Mohr
It was magical.
We’d spent the day of Christmas Eve with my mom and dad – opening gifts and eating a Christmas feast. Now we were driving back to our own home, two and a half hours, and five counties away – wanting our two young sons to wake up in their own beds on Christmas morning.
We were in our own little bubble, traveling through Tacoma, Seattle, Everett. The young sons – four and one and a half – were strapped into the back seat, sleeping the deep, trusting sleep of young children, while Scott and I listened to classical Christmas music on the radio, and took in the sight of the Christmas lights that seemed to shine out from every home and apartment – light uniting with light in a spirit of good will and joy.
As we rose over the last hill and descended into the valley of our home county, we were suddenly surrounded by a sparkling snow-covered landscape. We hadn’t been expecting snow, and the pristine beauty of it, glittering in the moonshine, took my breath away.
We left the freeway and drove through snow-covered fields, down the country roads that would bring us to our home. It was very late by now, and there were no other cars on the roads. We had the beauty of the night to ourselves – a gift just for us. The very air seemed filled with an expectancy of good, a quiet, waiting anticipation, and complete peace.
We pulled into our driveway and carried the sons upstairs to their beds, then hurried back downstairs. There were still things we had to do before the dawn of Christmas morning.
I lit candles and put them on the windowsill, so that our light could join in with the other lights “shining in darkness,” and put on a Christmas CD. Scott pulled out his tools and the box full of bike parts that would, by the next morning, turn into our four year-old’s first bike. I pulled out the bouncy horse with springs that would become our youngest son’s faithful steed, and wrapped gifts, and hummed Christmas songs, and let myself fill up with gratitude for the night and the peace and the snow; for my precious sons asleep in their beds; for my husband busily assembling the bike; and for the starlight and moonglow and light shining from homes, filling the darkness and cold with hope and joy.
“‘Let there be light,’ is the perpetual demand of Truth and Love, changing chaos into order and discord into the music of the spheres.” – Mary Baker Eddy
“This is the doctrine of Christian Science: that divine Love cannot be deprived of its manifestation, or object; that joy cannot be turned into sorrow, for sorrow is not the master of joy; that good can never produce evil; that matter can never produce mind, nor life result in death.”
From Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
by Mary Baker Eddy
Christmas Eve, 1988. I was in a funk. I couldn’t see that I was making much progress in my life. My teaching career seemed to be frozen, and I was beginning to think my husband and I would never own our own home or have children. The world seemed a very bleak and unhappy place to me. No matter how many batches of fudge I whipped up or how many times I heard Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” I couldn’t seem to find the Christmas spirit.
I was washing the breakfast dishes, thinking my unhappy thoughts, when I heard gunshots coming from the pasture behind our house. I thought it was the neighbor boys shooting at the seagulls again and, all full of teacherly harrumph, decided to take it upon myself to go out and “have a word with them.”
But after I’d marched outside I realized that it wasn’t the neighbor boys at all. John, the dairy farmer who lived on the adjoining property, was walking away with a rifle, and an animal (a calf, I thought) was struggling to get up in the field behind our house. Every time it would push up on its legs it would immediately collapse back to the ground.
I wondered if maybe John had made a mistake and accidentally shot the animal, so I ran out to investigate and found that the animal was a dog. It had foam and blood around its muzzle. She was vulnerable and helpless – had just been shot, after all – but instead of lashing out at me or growling as I’d expect an injured animal to do, she was looking up at me with an expression of trust and seemed to be expecting me to take care of her.
“John!” I yelled, running after the farmer. He turned around, surprised to see me. “John, what happened?” I asked, pointing back towards the dog.
A look of remorse came into his eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry you saw that, Karen. The dog is a stray and it’s been chasing my cows. I had to kill it.”
“But John, it’s not dead yet.”
John looked back at the dog and grimaced. “Oh man,” he said. “I’m really sorry. I’ll go finish the job. Put it out of its misery.”
By this time another dog had joined the dog that had been shot. It was running around its friend, barking encouragement, trying to get its buddy to rise up and escape. The sight of the one dog trying to help his comrade broke my heart. I made a quick decision. “Let me and my husband take care of it.”
“Are you sure?”
I nodded and he agreed to let me do what I could for the animal.
Unbeknownst to me, as soon as I ran out of the house my husband, knowing that something was wrong, had gotten out his binoculars and was watching my progress in the field. He saw the look on my face as I ran back. By the time I reached our house he was ready to do whatever he needed to do to help me. I explained the situation to him, we put together a box full of towels, and he called the vet.
As we drove his truck around to where the dog lay in the field, I noticed that, while the dog’s canine companion had finally left the scene (never to be seen again), John had gone to the dog and was kneeling down next to her. He was petting her, using soothing words to comfort her, and the dog was looking up at John with that look of trust she’d given me. John helped my husband load her in the back of the truck and we began our drive to the vet’s.
I rode in the back of the truck with the dog as my husband drove, and sang hymns to her. As I sang words from one of my favorite hymns from the Christian Science Hymnal– “Everlasting arms of Love are beneathe, around, above” – the dog leaned against my shoulder and looked up at me with an expression of pure love in her blue eyes.
Once we reached the animal clinic, the veterinarian came out to take a look at her. After checking her over he told us that apparently a bullet had gone through her head, that he’d take care of her over the holiday weekend – keep her warm and hydrated – but that he wasn’t going to give her any medical treatment. I got the distinct impression that he didn’t think the dog was going to make it.
My husband and I went to my parents’ home for the Christmas weekend, both of us praying that the dog would still be alive when we returned. For me, praying for her really meant trying to see the dog as God sees her. I tried to realize the wholeness and completeness of her as an expression of God, an idea of God. I reasoned that all the dog could experience was the goodness of God – all she could feel is what Love feels, all she could know is what Truth knows, all she could be is the perfect reflection of God. I tried to recognize the reality of these things for me, too, and for all of God’s creation.
She made it through the weekend, but when we went to pick her up the vet told us that she wasn’t “out of the woods, yet.” He told us that if she couldn’t eat, drink, or walk on her own in the next few days, we’d need to bring her back and he’d need to put her to sleep.
We brought her home and put her in a big box in our living room, with a bowl of water and soft dog food by her side. I continued to pray. In the middle of the night I got up and went out to where she lay in her box. Impulsively, I bent down and scooped some water from the dish into her mouth. She swallowed it, and then leaned over and drank a little from the bowl. I was elated! Inspired by her reaction to the water, I bent over and grabbed a glob of dog food and threw a little onto her tongue. She smacked her mouth together, swallowed the food, and leaned over to eat a bit more. Now I was beyond elated! She’d accomplished two of the three requirements the vet had made for her!
The next day I took her out for a walk. She’d take a few steps and then lean against me. Then she’d take a few more steps and lean. But she was walking! We would not be taking her back to the veterinarian.
In the next two weeks her progress was amazing. By the end of that period she was not only walking, but running and jumping and chasing balls. Her appetite was healthy. She was having no problems drinking or eating.
But one of the most amazing parts of this whole Christmas blessing was the relationship that developed between this dog and the man who had shot her. They became good friends. The dog, in fact, became the neighborhood mascot. (And she never again chased anyone’s cows.)
What the dog brought to me, who had, if you recall, been in a deep funk when she entered our lives, was a sense of the true spirit of Christmas – the Christly spirit of forgiveness, hope, faith, love. She brought me the recognition that nothing, absolutely nothing, is impossible to God.
We named our new dog Christmas because that is what she brought us that year.
Within a few years all those things that I had wondered if I would ever have as part of my life came to me – a teaching job, children, and a home of our own. It is my belief that our Christmas Dog prepared my heart to be ready for all of those things to enter my life.
– from *Blessings: Adventures of a Madcap Christian Scientist* by Karen Molenaar Terrell
Yes, it is that time of year when the melodic and not-so-melodic strains of holiday music once again fill our supermarkets and shopping malls. Some of these strains bring back tender memories of Christmases past, and some instantly have me wincing and cringing in horror.
Probably my least favorite of all Christmas songs is Twelve Days of Christmas. That song is a never-ending nightmare. And I cannot describe the pity I feel for the poor victim whose lover gave to her a partridge in a pear tree, maids milking cows, lords leaping all over the furniture, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, and geese – I mean – can you imagine the mess?! The song doesn’t say anything about her lover giving her a zookeeper to feed these many creatures, or to clean up the mountains of crap that will surely accumulate in the poor woman’s home. Her house is going to look like the bottom of a hamster cage – only bigger.
Even the five gold rings – unless they have sapphires, emeralds, and rubies the size of ostrich eggs attached to them – do not make up for the trouble caused by the other “gifts.”
I also cringe at songs sung by pop stars that talk of grandmas getting run over by reindeer, and drunken daddies. They just don’t capture the spirit of the season for me.
My favorite religious Christmas song is Silent Night. Whenever I hear that song I picture the British and German soldiers singing it to each other across the trenches of World War I in a moment of determined peace one Christmas Eve. I picture rosy-cheeked children’s faces lit by the soft golden light of hand-held candles in a church somewhere in Switzerland, cozy and warm inside while snow falls softly outside the church. I picture the night of a baby’s birth – any baby’s birth – and the sacred innocence and promise of new life. Silent Night is a song of hope.
In the category of non-religious Christmas songs, I really enjoy John Denver’s Aspenglow (what can I say? I really liked John Denver – so call me “schmaltzy”), Sarah MacLachlan’s Song for a Winter’s Night, and any Christmassy song by Lareena McKennitt.
But maybe my favorite Christmassy song is Dar Williams’s Christians and the Pagans. You have to admit, these lyrics are pretty hard to beat:
“So the Christians and the pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground, the best that they were able,
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said,
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses…
And where does magic come from? I think magic’s in the learning,
‘Cause now when Christians sit with pagans only pumpkin pies are burning.”
Yes, ready or not, like it or not – the Christmas season is upon us – and coming with it, in elevators and supermarkets everywhere, will be the good, the bad, and the ugly in holiday music.