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IN SEARCH OF THE X-MAS SPIRIT

By Michael Strelcheck

Hard to believe it’s that time of the year again and the holiday season is upon us. Usually, I look forward to this time, but this year I found myself faced with the dilemma of how to frame IT?  Through the years I’ve always been able to get “up” for the X-mas season, but this time “IT” seems to have gone missing.  Maybe it’s due to all the turmoil and divisiveness over the recent elections? I don’t think its holiday “fatigue” due to so many special days being squashed together in rapid sequence (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the like). That hasn’t bothered me before; after all, we are talking about the Magic of Christmas. No other holiday can compare. But whatever it is, I must admit, the IT isn’t there. Hopefully I just misplaced it.

Consequently, I decided to begin a search to find that “spark” that the holidays have always provided me. I started by making it a point to watch the restored version of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas on TV, which I loved as a kid, but to my surprise even that left me feeling empty. I next turned to some Christmas themed concerts on TV that were being shown on the local PBS station, Manheim Steamroller and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I optimistically thought, “This will surely work, the passion of their music always moves me.” The performances were glitzy and well done, but felt a little contrived and overproduced. They seemed to lack heart or at least they didn’t move me the way I had expected.

Growing a little concerned, I went to a local play, one that sounded promising, about a Department Store elf’s (Crumpet) experiences in New York. Unfortunately, although clever, the narratives of his experiences were a bit sarcastic (a friend pointed out that the play had that ‘New York kind of attitude’). As the play progressed Crumpet went from willing to uncooperative, becoming more and more disheartened with each passing day. But I hung in during the performance, having faith that eventually the suffering Crumpet would find the “miracle of redemption” the holidays often bring. But alas, the elf, or the poor fellow who was hired as one, walked away disillusioned, without an epiphany (unlike the Grinch whose heart grew ten times its size when he “got” IT).  I left the theater also feeling discouraged and began to realize that my search for the elusive X-mas Spirit might be in vain, similar to those who have searched for the mythical ‘Big Foot,’ finding tantalizing clues, but no real substance.

The following week I became resigned to the fact that the problem was me. Somehow I had lost my inner “child,” the part of me who always felt IT, who patiently waited and anticipated IT’s yearly return, who looked with wonderment into the festive store windows at Christmas time, and who knew in his heart that behind all the material symbols of the holidays – there was a real magic and real meaning! Yes, the thing I’d always feared had happened. I’d gotten cynical; I’ve turned into Ebenezer Scrooge!

It’s funny how, when you lose something that you’ve always had, you suddenly realize its importance. I tried to console myself by rationalizing that IT probably wasn’t real in the first place, and it’s high time that I grow up – I’d be better off. Made sense, but I still felt a sense of sadness and loss, I think a little like that fellow who worked as a Department Store elf.

Earlier, in my planned search, I had bought a ticket to an upcoming holiday concert to be performed by both a local choir group and orchestra. Since I had figured out my problem I questioned the value of now going, but I had the ticket, and rather than feel bad, I figured I might as well go. The concert was a performance of several pieces by the renowned composer Johann Sebastian Bach, with one being the Magnificat (1723), which he wrote for a Christmas Eve performance. I arrived early with no real expectation, figuring the music would be reflective of the mathematical precision that was Bach, and would be compelling but probably not “Christmassy.” The music was wonderful, layered and rhythmic, and I was fortunate enough to have gotten a seat right up front, literally sitting in the string section of the orchestra. As the violinists furiously played, I was mesmerized, watching their flying fingers as they danced about on the strings of their violins’ delicate necks harmonized with the quick slashing strokes of their bows. I was now a part of the orchestra, absorbed into its fury. The time flew by. And then came the last selection of the concert, the Magnificat, beginning with a great musical aria that rose up like a powerful wave.  Magically, it seemed as if the choir and orchestra suddenly sprouted wings and took to flight. And, lo and behold, I felt IT again! A sudden welling up in my chest filled my heart and, to my surprise, it too had grown wings and had taken off with the music. My sadness was left behind, unable to exist in this state of exaltation. I didn’t see it coming. I felt like Mr. Grinch that Christmas morning with a sense of love busting out all over. Throughout the entire piece, and the rest of the day, my senses were “enlivened,” and, as all left the concert, we were greeted with a fresh snow that had gently blanketed nature, giving us the appearance that we were stepping out into a fairy tale.

That’s my story and every word is true. Fortunately for me my story ends with redemption. Magic can happen! I feel a little foolish for doubting the “Spirit of Christmas” and its message seems to be – not to turn away from the child in our nature, for when we do, we lose the ability to be “enchanted.” Somehow, in some way, that day, I found the way back.

Many individuals today feel the holiday season has lost its meaning, its magic! Perhaps they have just lost sight of their dreams. I hope for those, as well as the person who was the Department Store elf, Crumpet, that all will rediscover their magical child this holiday season.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good life!

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