I’m a bit old to make Christmas lists. There was a time, some four decades ago, when the arrival of the Sears catalog at the Harper household signaled it was time to begin assembling and then culling a list that would eventually be mailed to the North Pole.
This was also a time when Sears was the nation’s largest retailer. Things that seem like bedrock foundations have a way of changing over time. Holiday traditions and expectations are among them.
Even using the word “holiday” is a bit of a change. It’s not meant to minimize Christmas, but is instead a nod to include others in the seasonal spirt of good tidings.
During the times when my Christmas list was filled by early October, I can’t say I knew any Jewish families nor had any concept of Hanukkah. That of course has changed, and this week many of my friends will begin eight nights of celebration. Never once has any of them corrected me or become offended when I reflexively wished them a “Merry Christmas.” I would suggest that if you’re triggered when someone says “Happy Holidays” to you, you’re doing Christmas wrong.
My Christmas wish lists as a kid were usually filed with requests for Tyco trains, Matchbox cars, or anything else that moved. I still recall my first train set. It was a Santa Fe freight train, HO scale, with a red caboose.
I also remember that Christmas morning when my Dad and two uncles put it together. And then wouldn’t let me do anything else other than watch them play with it. Little boys grow up, but we still love our toys.
My mother was exceptionally difficult to buy for — and still is. Much of this stems from the fact that she doesn’t usually telegraph what we can buy for her. Instead, she usually asked for the impossible.
She knew money was always tight, and I’ll likely never know the sacrifices that were made in order to ensure that we always had what we wanted under the tree on Christmas morning. So instead of telling us what we/Dad could buy for her, she just said, “All I want is for my children to get along. Just for one day.”
I grew up with three sisters. Believe it or not, I wasn’t the most strong-willed of the bunch. We occasionally had “disagreements.” And by disagreements, I mean we fought. Constantly.
I don’t mean physical fighting. I’m now thankful that my Dad made it clear that hitting a girl under any circumstances was unacceptable. Though at the time when it was three against one I questioned his wisdom in not letting me defend myself. In reality he was also likely keeping me from getting my tail kicked.
As the years rolled around, the lessons handed down by my parents were among the best gifts of all. Intentionally or not we learned how to debate each other in a mostly civil manner, honing skills that all of us now use much later in life. We now even understand things that they explicitly told us when we were young and arguing. My sisters are in fact the people I can count on no matter what, regardless of any minor differences of opinion.
Almost a half century later I still get to deal with trains and cars. It’s a lot less fun when there is public policy involved and there is no Santa Claus to make expensive things magically appear. It’s also part of my job to ensure that taxpayers are never assumed to be nor mistaken for Santa.
Daily conflict now isn’t among siblings arguing over nothing. It’s everyone arguing over everything, usually amounting to nothing. Our issues are great and the stakes are huge. Yet it seems there is nothing too trivial to use in order to sow division among us as a people.
Our fellow countrymen still have more in common than we have in differences. There will be a time — likely soon — we’re going to need to count on each other when outside forces are against us.
This Christmas I’m with my mother. I can appreciate the power in tranquility if everyone would make some effort to get along — even if just for a day.
Charlie Harper, executive director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank, is also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to state & local politics of Georgia.