Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Memories

I've written in the past about Christmas, and I've touched upon my childhood experience throughout this blog's existence. The cold hard facts of my life, are that things haven't been all that great, and my childhood was no picnic. It was rather lonely, not having a ton of friends, nor much family, and being raised by a rather domineering, overprotective, and sometimes even harsh/abusive grandmother. The truth is, that if viewed from the outside, it would look like a pretty dark childhood. Having lived through it, I can say that it too often was.

But that isn't to say that it was ALL bad. My grandmother COULD be, when she was in the right "mood", a pretty cool person. And she could also do some really cool things from time to time, and she did in point of fact, provide me with some moments and memories that were rather good. The problem was, as it always is in life, that the bad often outweighs the good, and when there is more bad than good overall, that is what tends to affect you and stick with you more than anything. But through the loneliness, and dark moments, and ever-present tension/fear that another dark moment could come, there WAS some good as well. And it just so happens, that a lot of those good moments tended to come around the holidays.

As a child, Christmas was hands down my favorite holiday and time of year. Even though I also loved October for Halloween, and November for Thanksgiving and my birthday (SPOILERS), December and and Christmas to child me had a whole different aura to it. I absolutely loved it, and for all the bad my grandmother did, for all of the poor or outright wrong decisions she made, she deserves some of the credit for building up my love of the season. It was directly though some of her specific choices about "family traditions" and the like, that my lens on the holidays, and the greater world, was shaped for the better, even in the midst of her poorer choices affecting and shaping me in darker ways.

The Artificial Christmas Tree

My memories and experiences of Christmas should be recounted where they really started, with the tradition of The Christmas Tree. At some very early point in my childhood, I'm going to say at some point in the mid-80s, when I was, let's say, between the ages of 4 and 6 years old, she decided we should get an artificial tree, instead of a real one. That is something, looking back, that I see the wisdom in, and if I ever am blessed enough to find the "Right Woman" and finally have a family of my own, I will likely push to get one again. The pros of having a real tree, first and foremost, is that it IS real, and has that wonderful pine smell, etc. The cons, however, are that it is a living tree, a living being, that you've chopped down and killed to briefly put on display in your house, before it rots and you have to throw it out like so much garbage. You also have to clean up all of the stray pine needles, deal with possible sap issues, bugs, etc. etc.

The pros of having an artificial tree, if you get a GOOD one, I would argue are many. For one thing, right off the bat, you're not going out and contributing to killing trees for such a silly, arbitrary reason every year. To a "pagan" like myself, who views the natural world as rather sacred, and like my Celtic ancestors trees most especially, that is a very important sticking point. For another thing, not having a real tree that will shed and rot, you don't have to clean up after it, and you don't have to deal with disposing of it later. What's more, because it's fake, you can, as we did, put it back in the box every year, and put it away, to be used the FOLLOWING year, and so on.

Decorating the Tree.

For me, growing up, one of the things I looked forward to the most ABOUT Christmas time, was putting out decorations, and dragging that (to a little kid) enormous tree box, and pulling it out, setting it up, and getting to work decorating it. For me, decorating the three was one of the most fun and important things in the world. It helped that, as I got older, we would eventually get new decorations to add, here and there. For example, fancy little Santa ceramics, or cooler looking balls. Or starting out my early years with those huge incandescent, old school Christmas lights, and later upgrading to smaller, cooler "twinkle lights" (Though there something nostalgic and cool about the huge old ones).

As I got into my pre-teen years, like 11 and 12, due to a combination of my grandmother being lazy, and me being big enough and having the desire to do it, setting up the tree became more and more MY job, and less of a thing I participated in. I would set up the tree, base and "skirt" and all. And I would get the brunt of the decorating work, if not all of it (I can't fully remember), which to me, I'm sure, was a big deal, because it meant I was now the artist, I was in full command (unless she piped in with "no put that over there") of precisely what decorations went on the tree, and where. And of course, when it was all done, tinsel and all,  the final traditional part of the American version of the ritual (though I'm sure it's similar in other parts of the world), was putting that twinkling star on the top.

I should make it clear right now, that to this day, I am a big enthusiast of Christmas decorations, especially the lights. I've always loved them, and I'm sure as a kid, I thought they were magic. Almost everything about the aesthetics of Christmas appeal to me, the predominant colors of red and green, which have a wonderful contrast/compliment relationship, the tree, the lights, the Santa and winter and snowmen and "elves" and magic and all the rest of that theme. The smells of pine and cinnamon and gingerbread and cookies and hot cocoa and packages and wrapping paper. I loved all of it as a kid, and it still holds a strong appeal. Part of that is nostalgia, I'm sure, but I feel like I also genuinely like most of it.

A thing of beauty, fleeting but magical.

At some point in my later childhood, we got a "fancy" new set of musical twinkle lights, that had of course had a little setting box, where you pressed the button, and the lights would either be static, would gently pulse in a slow rhythm, or would blink in time to some little "bleep bloop" versions of a handful of popular Christmas songs, such as "Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer", "The First Noel", "Winter Wonderland", and maybe "Silent Night". I don't mind telling you that to this day, I still like Christmas music, unlike some people, who act like they "hate" it. And I admit, it has its time and place, and GET get annoying. But IN its time and place, there are some REALLY good Christmas songs, and they just add to that aesthetic and "feeling" of the holiday. At least they did to me.

I really REALLY loved Christmas music as a kid, and to me, the very concept of a set of Christmas lights that PLAYED that music, the idea of combining the magic of the tree itself, with the magic of that music, was just...mindblowing. In the days leading up to Christmas Eve itself, I would ask to stay up a little later, after my grandmother had gone to bed, to just sit in the dark, with the only light coming from the tree, and just set it on musical mode, and zone out. It was, to me, a really magic, possibly even "holy" experience. Nevermind the implications of the holiday, being (at that time of my life) a young Christian, just the experience of me, the dark, the tree, the lights, the music. That was special to me, it was a feeling not quite like anything else.

Good Ol' Sanity Claus.

Of course, to a child most especially, the biggest sticking point, and most exciting thing about Christmas, was Santa Claus, and presents! Last year I dedicated an entire article to St. Nick and my favorite incarnation of his mythology. But it goes without saying that to me, Santa Claus was (and is) a bad ass and awesome figure. He's basically an ancient and immortal wizard, a demi-god who dedicates his existence to trying to spread cheer and generosity throughout the world. You might also say that he is, from a certain point of view, "The Patron Saint of Children".

I loved the idea of Santa as a kid, and believed in him with all of my heart. To say that I was somewhat heartbroken, as I'm sure many children are, when I started to get older, and caught on to the fact that the presents marked "From Santa", were perhaps NOT actually from him, is an understatement. It did, in fact, steal some of the thunder and magic and "specialness" of Christmas, to come to find out that maybe Santa didn't actually exist. And that at the very least, even if he did, this Truth that I had held as self-evident as a child, that he DID exist, and that he really did bring me presents every year, but ONLY if I was good, THAT much of it had been a lie. That wasn't a fun truth to try and reconcile. I don't think there was even a specific MOMENT that came where I was told he wasn't real. Just, at some point after I was probably around 10 years old, my grandmother stopped pushing the Santa angle so far, she may have even stopped writing "From Santa" on certain presents, and I just generally became aware that it had all been a story.

That isn't to say that I don't still cherish my childhood Santa experience. I do. And even though I remember how I felt when I came to realize he might not exist, and I also personally value Honesty and Truth more highly than pretty much anything else in life, if I ever get to have children, I WILL still tell them about Santa Claus, I WILL still celebrate Santa with them, and let them have those years where they think he is bringing them presents. Why? Because I remember how magical it felt to ME. For those fleeting early years, when I believed unquestionably that he existed and brought me presents, it was a fun and powerful experience. I remember sitting on some "Store Santa's" lap as a kid, maybe being a bit scared, but also being in awe because it was SANTA. I remember being around 4 or 5 years old, and the folks downtown bringing "Santa" around, riding on a firetruck, and that was a huge moment, because it was SANTA. I got to see him (so I thought), and got a candy cane and everything.

When I was a bit older, probably 8, one year out of nowhere, my grandmother, in one of her cooler moments, somehow rigged it up so that as I was sleeping, the sound of "sleigh bells" started playing in the house. I was either half-awake, or she woke me up, and told me "Santa Came!", and I probably actually rushed to our sliding glass door to see if I could see him. Of course I "just missed him", but while I questioned it, part of me really did believe that I had just heard Santa outside, that he had JUST popped in my house, and that I had proof that he DID exist. It was, again, for kid me, a powerful and magical moment. And if I ever have my own kids, I want them to have some version of that feeling. I want them to benefit from the "magic of Santa", as much if not more than I did. And even as an adult, now in my 30s, while I know and understand that Santa wasn't bringing me presents as a child, there still exists some part of me, some small spark of that childhood innocence and fire that we society tries to hard to stamp and kill off as we "grow up", that tiny spark that has refused to die completely in spite of everything, that still at least loves the IDEA of Santa Claus. And I don't mind telling you, that I, as a grown man, still would LIKE to believe that he COULD exist, out there somewhere. And if I ever got proof of that, if I ever legit saw him or met him, I also don't mind telling you that I'd probably cry, and lose my shit just a little. It would be pretty amazing.

My Christmas Bear (not MINE, but the one I had).

The other half of that equation, now that we've touched on Santa, is naturally the PRESENTS. To a kid, getting presents is bad ass, whether it's just a random gift at any time of year, something you successfully manage to lobby or beg to get, whether it's a birthday present, or a Christmas present, it's always awesome. But there was undeniably something "more special", perhaps at least to kid me, "more meaningful", about getting CHRISTMAS presents. Part of it WAS, for sure, the belief that Santa himself was bringing me gifts, that really lent the magic to it. But even things I KNEW that my grandmother got me, or that other friends or relatives sent me, it still felt "special". And to me, it somehow felt MORE special, because my grandmother at some point when I was small, decided to establish this tradition that we would wake up at Midnight on Christmas Eve, to open our presents and check them out for a bit, and then go back to bed, to wake up later on Christmas Morning. To me, it was fun and exciting to get to get up late like that, to not have to wait till morning to open the gifts, and naturally I'm sure there was at least once or twice where I didn't even sleep at all, laying awake and excited, waiting. It's a tradition I liked growing up, and it's one I would at least float out there as a possibility with my own family someday.

One of the coolest things I remember getting as a Christmas gift, was also one of the first things I can clearly remember. There were other things that I dimly stand out from earlier years, such as a small strain set and the like. But when I had just turned 6 years old, my grandmother presented the guy you see in the picture above to me. He was a Christmas Bear, obviously a polar bear doll, and a rather HUGE one (maybe a couple feet tall, but huge to a kid). I remember her claiming that she won it in a contest, and perhaps she did. I have since gotten the impression that perhaps it was a K-Mart or Target promotional thing. But regardless of the details, I fucking loved the thing! I was super excited, and felt like I'd just won a million dollars. I would go on to sleep with that guy, on and off, for years after that, as he was the closest thing I had to snuggling up with a person.

Then there's THIS guy.

As I covered in one of my earliest articles, I also at some point in my childhood got a couple of 80s Robot toys. One of them was this black one above, and another was a white one with similar things going on. They were both battery-operated electronic toys, and when you turned them on, they would move around a bit and lights on them would light up. I am almost certain that I got at least ONE of them for some early Christmas, though I honestly don't remember anymore. I also know that at some point I got a Lionel train set, which was far superior to the smaller cheapo one I had gotten around pre-school age. I was never SUPER into trains as a kid, but I went through phases, and in one of them, I loved that Lionel set, and would often look at the Lionel catalog, dreaming about having all of the fancy things they showed, to expand my set.

Then there was THESE guys.

Another view.

I had a couple of relatives, at least earlier in my life, that would send us Christmas packages every year. One of them was a cousin of ours, and another was one of my grandmother's daughters, a "half-aunt" I guess, my Aunt Maggie, who lived in New Jersey. She would send us this big package, usually accompanied by WAY too much tape (though I understand why she did so), and every year, there would usually be one or two things in it for me. I would imagine she wasn't all that much richer than we were (and we were the opposite of rich), so I'm sure many of the presents she would send, were things she would find for good prices at thrift stores or things like that. But that didn't stop them from being cool, and it didn't stop me from always looking forward to seeing what she'd send.

One particular year, I'm gonna say when I was maybe around 10 years old, I felt like I hit the jackpot, because she sent me a couple of these guys pictures above. From what little I've gathered on the internet, they are a brand called "Dor Mei", and I assume that they are basically Chinese knockoff "Godzilla" toys. But all that mattered to me, was that first, they were like foot tall monster/dinosaur guys, and secondly, even if they weren't legit, they were basically SUPPOSED to be Godzilla. And to me, right in the strongest throes of my childhood monster obsession at the time, that's all I needed to know. To be fair, in the top picture, the one in the middle I did NOT have, and is apparently from a different brand/line. But I DID basically have the two on the right and left, one black and red, the other black and yellow with a bit of head fin.

Again, not mine, but I HAVE this guy.

There was also this little dude above, which I'm not certain, but feel like it ALSO was a gift from Aunt Maggie, from a different year. This one is supposed to be Godzilla, and as you can see, he has little clippie hands, where you squeeze his shoulders and his arms open up, so that you can "clip" him to something. While, like many things from my childhood I wish I still had, at some point in my early teens I was an absolute MORON and somehow got rid of those giant Dor Mei figures, somehow I DID manage to hold on to this guy. He, along with some Hot Wheels cars, a couple of McDonald's Mario 3 toys, and my Monster in My Pocket figures, are some of the only things left that I still have from back then.

The only other Aunt Maggie gifts that stand out in my memory, is that another year, perhaps when I was 11 or 12, I got two plastic blue game cases, and in them, were two NES games. Being the massive Nintendo nut that I was at that age, the NES being just about my favorite thing on this earth at the time, you can then well imagine how happy I was to get them, even though I had never heard of them. As it ironically happened, they were both Data East games, both ports of arcade games, one being Kid Niki, and the other being Breakthru. Neither game is amazing, but they are pretty solid NES ports of pretty solid arcade games, in fact I think they were the only arcade ports I actually owned on NES at all back then. It's just kind of funny and ironic to me as an adult, that even though Maggie likely just saw some NES games at a Goodwill or something, and knowing I had one grabbed them for me, that they just happened to be a couple of late 80s Data East ports.

The Holy Grail.

One of the very first articles I ever wrote, back in November of 2012, covered my love for the NES, and how much it meant to me as a kid. In that article, I also covered the "best Christmas of my life", wherein I got "The Package", a brown box that my grandmother had taped up, and wrapped up. It was like getting a Big Chest in a Zelda game (which I would not play for a few years yet, at the time). I opened that sucker up, excited to get such a big package, and held within, like some sacred, priceless treasure, were two "Sansui Joycard" controllers from Hudson Soft, which had rapid-firer switches and were more comfortable to hold. And then there were three brand new, unopened NES games: Bug's Bunny's Birthday Blowout, Dr. Mario, and by far more importantly, Super Mario Bros. 3. This was Christmas 1990, and I had JUST gotten my NES a few months earlier, as an "Early Birthday Present", in reality an incentive to do my homework. We had rented Bugs and Dr. Mario already, so she knew I liked Bugs, and she knew SHE liked Dr. Mario. Yes, even though it was "My" gift, she got Dr. Mario mainly for herself, evidenced by the fact that she would play it sometimes for hours on end for the next several years (until closer to her death).

Mario 3, on the other hand, I had technically played, but only for a few minutes, a relatives house while we were waiting to leave. I popped it in, and having never played it before (it was probably brand new at the time, having just come out in North America in April 1990), and I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I had seen (and loved) Super Mario Bros. 1 at my friend Harold's house, but then when I turned Mario 3 on, there was this map screen, and I had no idea what to do with that. Like a caveman (or cavekid, if you prefer), I spent many seconds not knowing how to just play a damn level, and finally I got into level one, and probably promptly died. I was mesmerized by what I saw in that brief period, but not owning my own NES, I just wasn't experienced enough of a gamer yet to really "Get It". Thankfully, I was a seasoned Mario 1 veteran (of a few months) by the time I got my OWN copy of Mario 3, so I was now fully prepared for it's glory. And I ate it up. It very quickly became my most favorite game of all time, and it has essentially held that spot after all these years. Mind you, it PISSES me off now, because it's easily the hardest Mario ever made, and I'm not AMAZING at it like I had become in my pre-teen years. But I still love it, it's a work of art, and because of of how much it meant to me as a kid, it will always be my #1. I could, and someday likely will, write an entire article talking JUST about Super Mario Bros. 3.

The Glorious Gray Brick.

The last major Christmas present of my childhood that I remember getting, was Christmas 1993. I was just coming off of a (to me at the time horrific) "grounding" from video games for TWO WHOLE MONTHS, because my grandmother got angry that I had played Mario 3 for three straight hours while she was napping once. Clearly a major overreaction on her part, but that was often the name of the game with her. I was devastated to somewhat accidentally learn that she had bought me Kirby's Adventure, a game I had rented and loved, for my birthday that year, but she returned it to Walmart as part of my "punishment". Really, really shitty, if you ask me. And ironic in light of the fact that she still gave me the awesome "Nintendo Chair" for my birthday anyway. But for Christmas, she thankfully didn't include getting rid of my last major present as well. Because when I opened it, it was a Game Boy, and I was thrilled. What I REALLY wanted, to be honest, was a Super NES, because the arcade game that I was absolutely obsessed with at the time, Street Fighter II, was on it, and I wanted it bad.

But I was still very happy to have the Game Boy, to have SOME kind of newer system. Mind you, I LOVED my NES, and I was truly blessed that it was such a popular console that it continued to get new games all the way til the end of 1994, three years after the SNES had hit the NA market. In fact many of the NES' best games came out after the SNES arrived. The NES was, and is, my favorite console of all time. But that being said, I was also "falling behind" and missing out on the newer systems and games that other, less poor kids were playing and talking about. So to at LEAST have a Game Boy (which had, after all, come out in 1989, a year BEFORE I even finally got an NES), still felt really cool. I would not wind up getting a SNES until around Holidays 1995 (I'm fuzzy on whether it was a bday or Xmas gift), and I could talk more about that, because it WAS great to finally get one (even though the Playstation, etc. were out by then). But to me, this was the last Christmas present of my childhood. And I played the shit out of it, even though I had to get a "Light Boy" attachment JUST to see the damn screen well. That is, of course, when my grandmother wasn't "borrowing" it to play Tetris.

Perhaps my favorite adaptation of the classic, along with the Muppets.

The perennial classic.

My favorite childhood cat.

Another significant part of Christmas time to me, was all of the TV specials and special episodes and movies about or influenced by the season. There were several Christmas Specials that I grew up on, that played basically every year, such as "A Charlie Brown Christmas", "A Garfield Christmas", "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Twas The Night Before Christmas", "The Year Without Santa Claus", "Frosty the Snowman", etc. Of those listed, while I love them all, I like Garfield and Rudolf the best. When I was little, that "Old Bumble", the Abominable Snowman in Rudolf, genuinely scared me.

One of my very favorite Christmas Specials.

Grinch by Childhood Association.

One that really stuck out to me, of course, was Dr. Seuss' "How The Grinch Stole Christmas". It's a great piece of work, directed by legendary animator Chuck Jones (his masterpiece in my opinion), and narrated by the singular Boris Karloff. It's a perfect concert of elements, and of course it was another that played at some point basically every year during my childhood, so I became well acquainted with it. But as little kids often do, for many of my earliest years, I thought that Seuss' Grinch and J.R.R. Tolkien's Gollum (specifically the version from the amazing 1977 cartoon), were one and the same. I mean from a little kid's perspective it makes sense. They're both grumpy, scary characters. They're both green and fuzzy. They both sneak around in darkness and are generally nasty cats. Gollum is, in his own way, The Grinch of the Hobbit. He just never had the benefit of learning the meaning of Christmas, so his shriveled heart never grew three sizes.

"Christmas Comes But Once a Year" by Max Fleischer, 1936.

"Peace On Earth", by Hugh Harmon, 1939.

Outside of the usual Specials, I would also often see old "Golden Age of Animation" (30s through 50s) theatrical shorts on TV. Such as "Christmas Comes But Once a Year", an old gem about a bunch of sad and destitute orphans, who are apparently unattended, who aren't going to get any Christmas gifts, so a kindly old man breaks into their kitchen, and uses various things lying around to build them makeshift toys. Or "Peace on Earth", an old MGM Studio cartoon, with a very deep message. It features little animals celebrating Christmas, and talking about "Peace on Earth", in a post-apocalypic world where man has, we are left to assume, killed himself off through war. There was also a 1955 remake called "Good Will Toward Men", by Hannah and Barbera (before they founded their own TV studio), and I'm sure I saw them both on TV at some point. Both have the same poignant message, which left me both disturbed and profoundly affected. It might have been the first true "anti-war" thing I ever experienced a kid, alerting me to the horror and insanity of humans and their killing of each other over just about anything.

Speaks for itself.

Lastly, that was something else, that had nothing to do with decorations or gifts or candy or cartoons, that really touched me and stuck with me as a child, about Christmas. To me, it felt like a "Holy" time of year. Not just, again, because as a kid, my grandmother raised me a Christian. I knew no different, and was not given an option (in fact I was taught that all other options were "evil"). It went far beyond religion. As a child, I grew gradually more and more aware of just how horrible and fucked up "the world out there" really was. In fact I clearly remember crying to my grandmother at one point when I was like 8 or so, because I was afraid, after comments I had heard either from her or the TV, that someone might "push the button" and the whole world would just be blown up. The idea that someone would make a bomb to kill thousands, let alone millions, let alone annihilate the ENTIRE EARTH, not only blew my little mind, but shook me to the very core. I was legitimately afraid of nuclear annihilation, in the late 80s and early 90s, because I grew to understand that governments and leaders weren't necessarily good, decent, wise people. I grew to understand that humanity has a long history of harming both itself, and the natural world around it. And knowing all of that, of course, made me both sad and afraid.

But Christmas, the Holidays? They filled me with hope. Partly because of all the pretty aesthetics. But also, all of the lip service and token gestures paid towards concepts like kindness, and charity, and "Peace on Earth". To me, as a kid, it meant a lot to me. I took it as serious, and thought that when people said those things, or sang about them, etc., that they all really cared, and truly meant it. And at least to me, in MY heart, I DID mean it. I wanted "World Peace" more than almost anything, and wished I was some kind of superhero, like Superman, who could fly around and save the world from itself. These were actual thoughts I would have as a child, growing into my pre-teen years. And Christmas, in it's own way, absolutely helped fuel that. It felt like, to my naive and narrow world view at the time, like maybe it was the ONE time of year, when everyone would shut the hell up, and just behave, and get along, and be GOOD to one another for awhile. I wanted more than anything to believe that all of these things like "Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men" would manifest themselves in the world someday. And Christmastime, I liked to imagine in my head and in my heart back then, was at least we came a little closer to that, like a planet growing a little closer to the sun in its orbit.

We had an old ceramic tree decoration like this, that lit up.

And with the warm, fuzzy feelings of (relative) happiness, and peace, and charity, and hope, that Christmas filled me with, so too came the "come down" when it was over. As much as I looked forward to December 24th, I also dreaded December 25th, because as the day drew on, I knew that soon Christmas would be over again for another entire year. I spent all that time, throughout December, wrapping myself up in everything Christmas, and getting so hyped for the big night/day itself, and then just like that, it would all be over. We had to put the tree away, take all the lights down, and everything just went back to normal. Yes, there was still New Year's Eve. But it just felt like such a sad "End" to me, and always made me feel sad and a bit depressed.

But overall, as stated, Christmas was a big part of my childhood. Certainly a majority of the happiest parts of it. Summer vacation was neat, not having school and just getting to play. But even as a child, my favorite time of year was October, November and December. That last block was and is unbeatable. It gets colder (which I prefer), the beautiful autumn colors, the greatness of Halloween, the feast of Thanksgiving, my Birthday (which of course meant a lot more to me as a kid than it does now), and then Christmas and New Year's. There really is no other block of the year that compares, and, again, if I ever finally find "The One" and get to experience being a husband and father, and have a family of my own, I will absolutely make it my mission to make sure that it is AS special, if not moreso, to them children, my family, as it was to me growing up. I want them to feel that magic and wonder, I want them to feel all of the good things I got out of the season, and more, with none of the Darkness I also dwelled within. Still do.


So with that, I want to wish everyone reading this a very Happy Holidays, a Merry Christmas, and here's to a Happy New Year, which, as always, shall we hope was better than the year prior. We can always hope, and honestly, one thing that my childhood taught me, one thing hat Christmas taught me, is that sometimes in life, that is all we really have to keep us going, and so it's important that we hold onto it, and never let that fire of Hope completely die out. Keep it alive in you and yours, and perhaps someday, sooner rather than later, enough of us can combined our fires. Someday we can work towards that "Peace on Earth" feeling that this season filled me with so much as a child.

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