Christmastime is a magical time for me.
We put up the Christmas tree this week, earlier than usual. Guess I'm getting old and need to squeeze as much holiday spirit as I can out of my remaining Christmases. Anne agreed that we should put up the tree early and sip some spiked eggnog while we did it. I picked up some Prairie Farms eggnog at the base commissary and broke out some fine Canadian whiskey and some cinnamon and nutmeg to mix into it. I cannot remember having so much fun while decorating a Christmas tree. And our humble, 6-foot, decorated, fake pine looks great. To me, it does.
Last night, my daughter-in-law and the boys watched "The Polar Express," the 2004 computer-animated Christmas film based on Chris Van Allsburg's book. I love that movie! It's the kind of fantastical and magical story that takes me back to my childhood Christmases. It's very much like the kind of dreams that might have played out in my sleeping head during the winter nights before Christmas.
"A Christmas Story" also is a favorite film of mine at Christmastime. At the beginning of that memorable Christmas feature, Ralphie and friends are looking into a big department store window, marveling at all the glorious Christmas displays. That really takes me back to my boyhood Christmastimes, gazing in awe into the holiday windows at such large St. Louis department stores as Stix, Baer and Fuller and – this was my favorite – Famous-Barr.
Electric trains made their way through the Famous-Barr window displays, rolling along on the train tracks through artificial snow and around wonderful toys. Just like in the movie, you'd probably see a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in that beautiful, wood stock. One Christmas, I found a Daisy under our Christmas tree. And I didn't shoot my eye out!
A truly wonderful memory of a Christmastime department-store experience was struck when I was a young adult, during the Christmas season of 1970 in Paris, France. After work one day at the U.S. Embassy, my boss gave me the mission – if I chose to accept it – of wandering out into the City of Light to find and buy a sled for his child. It was snowing in Paris, and I decided to head for the 10-story department store Galleries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussman. By the time I neared the majestic store, it was early evening, the snow was really coming down, and the Christmas lights of Paris were twinkling. Then I caught sight of the historic Galleries Lafayette in all its yuletide splendor. I thought back to Famous-Barr and its fantastic window displays. However, I was thinking that I might have found something to equal it. I looked across and up the street at my objective and was transfixed by the vision of Galleries Lafayette in the falling snow and storybook lights. Truly wonderful, it was, and I thought to myself: Merry Christmas, Griggs! Joyeux Noël!
The old St. Louis department stores are gone now. These days, people head to the nearest mall or to such modern-day shopping meccas as Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart. You know the latter two must be American institutions, when you can find them in "The Associated Press Stylebook."
Christmas gifts that children want from those stores also have changed. Forget about Erector sets and Lincoln Logs. You better be shopping for Kurio Touch 4S Family Tablets and Xbox 360s and perhaps the newest Wii game machines. Hey, Grandpa, do you know what the new Nintendo 3DS is? When I hear stuff like that, I scratch my head and think: Does any kid anymore want a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock?
When I think of all the hype about the latest electronic toys, all the holiday-shopping commercials, and the earlier arrival of Christmastime each year, I observe how commercial Christmas has become in America. I know it has, because my parents were complaining about it when I was a kid.
Oh, well, not to worry. We have enough to worry about, worrying about real worries, such as the daily dangers facing Americans in Afghanistan, gun violence in America, how to pay the bills in a stinking economy and lousy job market. Let's just enjoy the holidays as much as we possibly can. That's the spirit!