Fully Present for Christmas

USA Today reported a Santa Claus shortage story that was picked up by TV news. A combination of COVID-19 fears and actual Santa losses to the pandemic are no joke. Christmas is Scrooge, at last, finding joy and sharing warm feelings. Sorry, Faux News, liberals will be out there saying “Merry Christmas” to one and to all.

Long before Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, the Marx brothers stole Christmas humor in a 1935 movie skit between Groucho and Chico. Groucho was explaining details of a singer’s contract, ending in a “sanity clause.” Chico shouted, “You can’t fool me. There ain’t no Sanity Claus!”

Children of all ages wept, with laughter.

One childhood memory is Bing Crosby singing “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” In so far as Christmas morning and Santa Claus go, I was up early; sweet anticipation rewarded by bliss. I go for Christmas stories with heart.

Movies can touch our deepest feelings. “Miracle on 34th Street” offers up a 1947 black and white America of competing department stores. Child actor, Natalie Wood, doesn’t believe in Santa Claus until she overhears a department store Santa console a child in a foreign language. The plot hangs on belief.

“ELF,” the movie, is faster, funnier and better. Will Farrell plays Buddy, a full-size human and accidental elf. Ed Asner’s Santa is real. Bob Newhart is Papa Elf. Newhart has been a favorite of mine since the Northampton Jaycees brought him to John M. Greene Hall, 60 years ago. Newhart was then a stand-up comic with Billboard #1 long-playing records.

The American divide between red and blue states is mind boggling. Those who oppose vaccination swear by snake oil remedies instead of government scientists that their taxes pay for, “bless their hearts.”

Tinker Bell, like Santa, needs help to offset disbelief. A Grinch-like life view belies the Christmas spirit, which is love. A statue of the American humorist, Will Rogers, stands behind Capitol Hill reporters on TV. Will’s, “I don’t belong to an organized political party, I’m a Democrat,” is more true than ever this year. President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are fighting to pass historic legislation for the greater good of the United States of America. Joe may get his reward in heaven, and history.

Grinches: My father was a 1950s mayor of Northampton. Back then the city’s welfare department was one man with a tiny budget. Back then, hard up non-locals were discouraged in applying for assistance, maybe given a bus ticket. Even Scrooge arose to share his bounty with the working poor.

I once refused a tramp, with an Irish brogue, who hit me up inside London’s Westminster Cathedral. Once outside, my conscience spoke and sent me back into the sanctuary to find the guy.

A long time ago, I ponied up five pounds for forgiveness.

We had just viewed the glass coffin of Saint John Southworth who was, in 1654, hung drawn and quartered by Oliver Cromwell for the crime of being a priest. Southworth was admired as the plague priest, visiting homes to comfort sufferers. Amazingly, he stayed undercover for 25 years. Southworth’s violent end was in my mind when I sought out my beggar. Did I need the sight of a sewn-together saint to make things right? Evidently!

Maureen gave me tennis lessons for my 40th birthday. We joined the Holyoke Canoe Club for its fine clay courts and a few social activities.

Welcomed from the outset, we became friends with Ed and Paul from Springfield. They were a couple who, like us, had found the Valley’s perfect tennis location — clay courts with a river view.

For many years, Paul and Ed invited tennis friends to join them for a post-Christmas party at their grand Victorian home.

The spirit of Christmas lives there. Its beauty begins outdoors with a wreath on every window. Real Christmas trees and designer ones light up the ground floor rooms and stairway landings. The brightest stars are Santa Clauses in uncountable shapes and sizes. Paul would cook us a wonderful meal. Ed poured libations. Guests were given meaningful presents during the Yankee Swap. Ed and Paul’s generosity was embarrassing because, in life, you rarely find unreturnable love, unless it’s from God.

In 1999 — in awe of their faith in Santa — I read a poem, which Paul says it still graces their hearth in December. Old friends, we live in the hope found in a Christmas morning.

100 Santas 100

Believing, you know, is an act of faith.

Faith believers grasp as a gift from God.

God makes lives out of farce and tragedy,

Tragedy, I fear, is sum of our days:

Days slouching: giddily tilting at farce.

Farcical so are my worries; my gloom.

And Gloomy Gus’s are seldom welcome.

“Well come on in,” said Ed. We were early.

Early, but on time for a hug from Paul.

Paulist’s specialize in forgiveness done

Unselfishly, in the Christian practice:

Practice all too rare out here in the world.

Worlds of love reached either by ski or car.

Caravans of sleighs driven by Santa’s.

Fantasize, I say, one-hundred St. Nick’s.

Nooks and crannies filled beyond description.

Tall ones, stubby, fat, chubby and bearded.

Decorated trees; wreath for each window.

An open hearth as warm as our greeting.

Sleeting is forecast but guests won’t worry.

Sorry is a word we left in the last year.

Dear are our gifts, yet so hard to exchange.

Change an ornament for a hat? No way!

Away we flew like a thistle’s new down.

Far too human to emulate His Saint.

Merry Christmas and A Healthy New Year!

Author and poet, Jim Cahillane, lives in Williamsburg. He became a Gazette columnist in 1993. Sadly, Ed Sims has died. Paul Kenney celebrates Christmas in style. In the poem — the last word of each line begins the next — sort of.

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