When I was 7 or 8, our family acquired one of those now-parodied aluminum Christmas trees, complete with color wheel.
I’d lie for an hour or more on the hardwood floor of our living room with the only light the revolving red, blue, green or yellow thrown on the metallic branches from the segmented plastic screen of the light wheel. Chances are that Elvis Presley’s Christmas album or a holiday collection by the Lennon Sisters was playing on the stereo console at the back of the room.
Likely, the time was spent daydreaming of items I’d seen either in the toy section of the Sears Christmas catalog or on commercials during Saturday morning TV shows (“Roy Rogers,” “Sky King,” “Fury” and whatever cartoons had begun by then).
I was a Christmas nut then. I came by it honestly from my mother — she’s 76 now but Shelby Janis Moore Dougherty remains a Christmas fanatic. We’d play Christmas music constantly, make decorations, frost the windows with images stenciled on with Johnson wax, and take drives at night just to ooh and aah at the houses decorated in lights. Dad would hit a different part of town on each trip.
Most years since that time, I’ve stuck to some evolving variation of that holiday schedule, though the real meaning of the celebration — both the religious aspect and the spirit of giving — probably played a larger role in my thinking than the dreams of toys that danced through our minds as children.
When I had my own family, Santa came to the house long after our children received the “Yes, Virginia” answer from the New York Sun to the inevitable question. More recent habits include trying to find a new album of Christmas music that I enjoy each season.
This evolution has occurred for the past half century.
But this year … I don’t know why, but the Christmas spirit just is not there.
I’ve had “down” years before, but I still have managed to keep up pretenses by going to church, shopping for others and playing Christmas albums of Elvis, the Carpenters, Bing Crosby, Chris Isaak and all but the first one by Amy Grant. Christmas movies have helped … “A Christmas Story,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Bishop’s Wife.” A highlight was two years ago when I finally found a DVD copy of “The Gathering,” a 1978 TV-movie starring Edward Asner and Maureen Stapleton.
We have a tree up this year, but I have not dragged out any of my usual Christmas spirit aids. I haven’t even looked for 2013’s favorite Christmas album.
Gradually, I began to wonder: Could my absence from church in recent months be a major part of the problem?
I asked my pastor, the Rev. Anne Russ of First Presbyterian Church of Argenta in North Little Rock, if my holday gloom could have anything to do with my skipping church most of the time since I moved back from Oklahoma in late May.
Anne is a friend, and is blunt when necessary. But she was gentle with me. “The whole four weeks of Advent are all about preparing our hearts and minds for Christmas, so not being in church means you are missing that,” she wrote. She also referred me to a blog post she had written on the church website. It included Ann Weems’ poem called “Not Celebrate.”
It’s been a challenging year. I left a job I enjoyed. I started a company that is experiencing expected growing pains and others not anticipated. Some key relationships in my life have encountered highs and lows. Such things can beat you up and drag you down.
So why have I tried to go through life without the support of my spiritual family? I have no idea. … Was that smart? No, but I’ve stubbornly trudged alone where I shouldn’t have plenty of times.
The fact is I have not sought much help from God or those church members who love and support me as I’ve lurched through this pinball machine of 2013. Why should I expect to keep the ball in play?
Guess I’ll see some of you at the Christmas Eve candlelight service at 5 on Tuesday. I don’t want to miss that. Perhaps it’s not too late to find my Christmas spirit there.