This week when nothing happens

The week after Christmas is when nothing happens.

If you’re a teacher, you’re on vacation.

If you’re a student, you’re sleeping in.

If you work for a big corporation, your company may shut down and tell you to take the week off.

If you have a literary agent, she will tell you nothing happens with publishing houses from now until January.

Congress is on holiday.

Even the phone solicitors go quiet. They figure we’re all broke, having overspent on the holidays.

Even if you’re working, there’s a different tempo to the office. It’s a little more laid back, a lot less intense.

The week when nothing happens is one of the most enjoyable weeks of all.

It’s found time, like when friends are coming for dinner, you have everything ready and they’re 15 minutes late. It’s the best 15 minutes of the week. It’s 15 minutes of time you weren’t counting on, 15 minutes to clean out your wallet, organize your desk, answer emails or throw out old newspapers.

Time puts on the brakes in the week before we turn the page to a new year. The pace slows, the shopping frenzy begins to wane, the canned music stops, and here and there you find a few minutes to breathe.

You not only have time to fill the birdfeeder, but to watch the birds. The chickadee is so dainty. The nuthatch is crazy. The albino cardinal has returned. Surely, it can’t be the same one three years running.

There’s no need to sprint to the kitchen in the morning. The crowd is gone. They’ve left behind full trash cans, a smattering of leftovers and echoes of laughter.

You can take time to examine frost on the window if you like. Or enjoy the morning sun spilling in through the window.

You can make a cup of tea. The real kind, with loose leaves in the tea ball and wait for it to steep instead of shaking the pot. You may even have the luxury of waiting for the tiny leaves that escaped from the mesh ball to sink to the bottom.

If this isn’t the good life.

You can linger over the cards you opened at warp speed before Christmas and threw in a basket without so much as a glance.

You might even find time to clean out your sock drawer, match the plastic lids and tubs and straighten up that mess under the sink.

If it has snowed, you can pause at twilight, watch the sky fade to pink and the snow turn to blue.

Time moving slow, filled with simple pleasures; it’s a wonderful time of the year.

When the gift meets the need

My parents grew up during the Depression attending small country churches. At the close of Christmas Eve services, children were called down front and each one was given a brown paper sack containing an apple, an orange, nuts still in their shells and several chocolates.

Years later, whenever Dad recalled that tradition, his eyes sparkled reliving the memory. My mother not so much. She always said she suspected the chocolates had been pre-sucked; they tasted cheap and old. You can’t blame the woman. Even as a child, she had a discriminating palette.

Cheap chocolates or not, the paper sacks with goodies were an event. Gifts of any sort during the Depression were rare, especially in large farm families with seven, eight and nine children.

When our children were young and we were home for Christmas one year, Mom and Dad gave each of the grandkids a brown paper sack holding an apple, an orange, some nuts and chocolates. This was in addition to the mound of gifts beneath the tree.

When we finished the 8-hour drive home after the holiday, there was a message waiting on the phone when we walked in the door. “Your ungrateful kids left their apples and oranges in the back of our refrigerator. No more fruit for them!” Grandpa and Grandma were teasing, of course, still there was an element of disrespect in the kids leaving behind thoughtfully chosen gifts.

But the paper sacks did not have a context for our children. We had apples and oranges at home. Our children had never known fruit to be a scarcity, just as they had never known bare bone want, or bread and butter sandwiches.

They didn’t appreciate the gift because they had never experienced the need the gift was meant to fill.

The same is true of Christmas today. We don’t appreciate the true gift of the season because we don’t comprehend the need the gift was given to fill. Consequently, we relegate the gift of Christ to the back of the ‘fridge.

It’s not like we don’t know we have needs. We know them, all right – patience, love, self-control, strength, courage, faithfulness, forgiveness — it’s just that we have become experts at numbing ourselves to our needs. We mute them by shopping, eating, a litany of never ending activities and placating the deep things that tug for our attention with therapeutic jargon.

The true gift of the season is a perfect fit for our every need. The lasting gift of Christmas is that God took on flesh and bones and was born of a virgin in a stable amid sheep and cattle and straw. The divine descended to earth. The invisible became visible. Angels lit up the skies over Bethlehem, rugged shepherds shook with terror and the Magi changed course to follow the star.

No video game can compete with that drama.

No holiday table setting can hold a fraction of that dazzle.

When a gift like apples and orange fits a need, there is a cheerful contentment. When the gift of the manger fits a need, there is the joy of Christmas.

Bark the herald canines sing

Try finding a Christmas movie on television that doesn’t feature dogs. Not that there’s anything wrong with dogs playing actors. In my book, that little Taco Bell dog is right up there with Matt Damon.

Over the past few years, dogs have gone from supporting roles (a furry shoulder to cry on or someone to fetch the holiday slippers), to headlining roles. There are the romance savvy dogs that lead their owners into relationships. There are dogs that appear in a holiday wedding, dogs that reveal the real meaning of Christmas and dogs that talk.

The dogs that talk are witty, articulate and more intelligent than the humans. This is obviously true in that the dogs got the lead roles and the humans have small parts as supporting cast.

These talking dogs are so smart and clever that if they followed the global market we’d pay them for financial advice. Or fund their presidential campaigns.

So far, the only thing I haven’t seen is a dog singing “O Holy Night.” But then, the season isn’t over.

Some of the holiday dog movies are endearing and some are retreads. “The Dog Who Saved Christmas” is “Home Alone” with a mutt taking the place of Macaulay Culkin. If only the dog could figure out how to stand before the mirror and slap on aftershave. “HOOOOWWWWWWL!”

It is only a matter of time before all of the Christmas classics are remade featuring dogs.

In “Miracle on 34th Street,” Kris Kringle’s attorney, played by a Siberian husky, must prove that Santa is not bonkers. Opposing counsel is played by a yappy toy poodle and the judge is played by a graying Irish wolfhound. Kringle emerges from court victorious and is so thankful to his canine representation that he fires all the reindeer and lashes a team of greyhounds to the sleigh.

In a remake of “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the Dogs of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. The Dog of Christmas Yet to Come is a small dog-like robot with laser eyes, artificial intelligence language skills and GPS capability. The dog is cold, frightening and impersonal. On the upside, he does not produce any waste disposal problems requiring small plastic bags.

“The Night Before Christmas” takes on some new shades as well: “The pups were nestled by the fire in their beds, While visions of rawhide bones danced in their heads . . . Away to the window I flew like a flash, Ripped down the curtains and drooled on the sash.”

In “White Christmas,” Major General Waverly returns to Vermont after World War II and opens up a kennel. The kennel is going broke.Every dog that has ever boarded there learns of the fate of the kennel via social networking. They return to the kennel for a surprise show featuring Frisbee catch, a barking dog ensemble and stupid pet tricks. The kennel is saved and the show closes with two smooth-talking border collies sauntering away with two perky Welsh corgis.

The only show that could not be remade is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Snoopy is sublime in his all-knowing, all-seeing, secondary background role. You don’t mess with perfection. Besides, a beagle knows you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The Death of Common Sense

Three yards of black fabric enshroud my computer terminal. I am mourning the passing of an old friend by the name of Common Sense. His obituary reads as follows: Common Sense, aka C.S., lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the millennium. No one really knows how old he was, his birth records were long ago entangled in miles and miles of bureaucratic red tape. Known affectionately to close friends as Horse Sense and Sound Thinking, he selflessly devoted himself to a life of service in homes, schools, hospitals and offices, helping folks get jobs done without a lot of fanfare, whooping and hollering.

Rules and regulations and petty, frivolous lawsuits held no power over C.S. A most reliable sage, he was credited with cultivating the ability to know when to come in out of the rain, the discovery that the early bird gets the worm and how to take the bitter with the sweet.

C.S. also developed sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adult is in charge, not the kid) and prudent dietary plans (offset eggs and bacon with a little fiber and orange juice).

A veteran of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, the Technological Revolution and the Smoking Crusades, C.S. survived sundry cultural and educational trends including disco, the men’s movement, body piercing, whole language and new math. C.S.’s health began declining in the late 1960s when he became infected with the If-It-Feels-Good, Do-It virus.

In the following decades, his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal and state rules and regulations and an oppressive tax code. C.S. was sapped of strength and the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, criminals received better treatment than victims and judges stuck their noses in everything from Boy Scouts to professional baseball and golf.

His deterioration accelerated as schools implemented zero-tolerance policies. Reports of 6-year-old boys charged with sexual harassment for kissing classmates, a teen suspended for taking a swig of Scope mouthwash after lunch, girls suspended for possessing Midol and an honor student expelled for having a table knife in her school lunch were more than his heart could endure.

As the end neared, doctors say C.S. drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments regarding regulations on low-flow toilets and mandatory air bags. Finally, upon hearing about a government plan to ban inhalers from 14 million asthmatics due to a trace of a pollutant that may be harmful to the environment, C.S. breathed his last.

Services will be at Whispering Pines Cemetery. C.S. was preceded in death by his wife, Discretion; one daughter, Responsibility; and one son, Reason. He is survived by two step-brothers, Half-Wit and Dim-Wit.

Memorial Contributions may be sent to the Institute for Rational Thought. Farewell, Common Sense. May you rest in peace.

This essay, along with tongue-in-cheek biographical sketches of the survivors of Common Sense, is available as a small book. It is an ideal gift for those who have a sense of humor and are not PC. It’s also ideal for those you think lack common sense but you’d rather not tell them yourself.  Buy here at amazon.