Childhood memories keep Christmas alive

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:34 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009
Perhaps my highly developed cynical side has a hole in its ozone layer, but I still love Christmas and all its trappings. The decorations, the carols, the movies and the children’s school and church pageants all come together to make December a delightful month.


From Bing Crosby’s "White Christmas" to Gene Autry’s "Here Comes Santa Claus" to Mahalia Jackson’s "Silent Night," from Alistair Sim’s "A Christmas Carol" to Edmund Gwenn’s "Miracle on 34th Street" to Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" to the dozens of pageants in which I was a participant or merely a viewer are treasured memories.
I am certain that most share similar sentiments of their own Christmas favorites – time and space considerations do not allow me to list all that I savor of this holiday period. My personal favorite is 1983's “A Christmas Story” with Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, whose heart’s desire was the ultimate in a 1940s boy’s dream – the official Red Ryder 1,000 shot BB Carbine which, if not brought by Santa, could be purchased for the magnificent sum of $2.95.

I identify with Ralphie inasmuch as my earliest memory of an intimate chat with Santa concerning my Christmas wishes was our 1941 trip to Brandeis’ Department Store in Omaha – an event now etched permanently in my cognitive recess. The exciting festival of lights, sights and sounds was not to be duplicated until I had children of my own as World War II curtailed sharply the availability of means and material. By the way, Santa brought me the BB gun that year, and I did not shoot my eye out.

Christmas was special at our house and eagerly awaited – remember the seemingly interminable wait between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve – the longest month of the year? When that day arrived at long last, my brothers and I could expect our stockings to contain an orange, an apple, a banana, nuts, candy and assorted trinkets. There were also one or two “major” gifts from Santa along with a few wrapped packages under the tree to be exchanged among us.

By today’s standard, it might appear a meager holiday fare; however, money was tight – fortunately, we did not realize we were poor as no one in our circle was particularly flush. Among my most memorable Christmases was that of 1947 – we received Rawlings baseball gloves, a Spaulding baseball and a Louisville Slugger bat — the 70-degree temperature that Christmas Day was put to good use. To us, it was the joy of anticipating, sharing and being with family and friends that counted rather than how much one received.

But, every year, I am reminded anew that Christmas is overly commercialized, that the consumers and retailers are filled with greed and/or profit motive and that it is rife with hypocrisy. There are also among us a few, perhaps 1 percent or 2 percent of the population, who claim to be offended by its religious overtones and advocate scrapping Christmas altogether.

To that, I utter a resounding “Bah, humbug!” The celebration is in the eyes of the beholder – those who relish the Christmas spirit may do so in the manner they so choose while those opposed may play the Grinch to their heart’s content. But, please, in the spirit of Robert Ingersoll's “Tolerance is giving to every other human being the rights you claim for yourself,” at least try to be neutral, and we will return the favor.

As for the brickbats at "overly zealous" consumers and "greedy" retailers, when one applies logic and reason to this equation, an economic reality appears. For most retailers, the Thanksgiving/Christmas period provides their annual profit; hence, if the consumer fails to buy, there is little reason to produce the goods for the retailer to market and the economy goes south.

Finally, I am not a shopper, in fact, my philosophy is a guy thing — if one cannot ride it, eat it, drive it, shoot it or catch fish with it – what good is it? In all fairness; however, I am not prepared to indict the entire shopping population of the U.S. as a frenzied, out-of-control mob seeking to wreak havoc upon anyone or anything that dares block their path to the Holy Grail of bargains.

The death by trampling of the New York Walmart employee was indeed a tragedy, but one isolated incident from among millions of shoppers, regardless of how horrible and unnecessary, hardly constitutes a trend. I find it extremely difficult to identify mothers, wives and daughters as a bloc of urban terrorists.

Scrooges and malcontents notwithstanding, Christmas is here to stay. Christians celebrate it as the birth of Christ, while other religions for the most part either observe it or are tolerant. To me, Christmas is the light of anticipation in the eyes of a child awaiting a visit from Santa Claus and the willing sacrifice of parents who make that hope a reality.

Merry Christmas.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at


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