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Monday, December 25, 2006

`Childize' a merry Christmas

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

It's Christmas morning and time to hit the pause button, thank God.

Why does a holiday celebrated for peace and goodwill to all mankind create such anxiety, exhaustion, discord and anger?

Some secularists despise how it constantly creeps back into the public view, as if it were a bug that couldn't be stomped. Some Christians loathe what they believe it has become today in America, a profane bacchanal of greed and avarice. Some parents wear themselves down to a nub, trying to make things perfect for their children. Some children think they don't--a smaller number of whom actually don't--get their share. Some folks are offended that the Christians usurped a pagan holiday dedicated to the return of the sun for a celebration of the appearance of the Son.

Peace? Don't count on it. This afternoon, you have to clean up the dinner plates and a few days later take down the tree. Goodwill? Well, at least for the lawyers who make a mint, serving opposing sides of the Christmas wars who regard their antagonists with anything but goodwill.

Every year we bemoan Christmas. Every year we say it gets worse. Every year we try to remind ourselves what it's all about.

So, let's do it again. Do not read this standing up. Sit. Let normal respiration reassert itself, tight muscles unknot and the heart rate descend.

Now what?

Jeez, I don't know; whaddya expect? It's hard enough for me to relax without doing it for you too. But, here's what I do:

Childize (pronounced child eyes). Ize is a suffix, meaning to make or become. For children, Christmas is the whole package. At once, without contradiction, it is a religious holiday and a secular holiday. Days to flood the senses with things new, mystifying, warm, compassionate, hopeful and fun. Children don't segment Christmas into secular and religious, giving and receiving.

It's all one vast, amazing, deeply remembered sequence of events that fills heads with special memories, very private memories.

I've been blessed with three generations to childize Christmas: mine, my children's and now my granddaughters'. When I childize, I'm back on North Maplewood Avenue , trying to figure out how Santa Claus on Christmas Eve could make it down a fake, chimney-less fireplace in our two-flat with a big load of toys, while my brother and sister were holed up in the kitchen, speculating about wonders to come. And I'm wondering later why Santa would give me a tricycle whose front wheel would fall off. (I eventually learned about World War II shortages and grew to appreciate how my folks must have looked high and low to find a second-hand trike in any kind of shape). Or years later, in Northfield, walking home after serving midnight mass, through a foot of fluffy, unplowed snow, the night so quiet you could almost hear the snow falling, so snug and comforting it almost felt warm. As I turned into our driveway, I felt a tug of regret, as if I could keep walking forever, but knowing that it would become one of the most peaceful and enduring memories of my life. One that, until now, I've shared with no one.

At my brother Bill's annual Rotary children's Christmas party, it was Leia, 4 and the second oldest, who ratted out Santa. "Grandpa, that's not really Santa," she whispered after the party. How do you know? She looked at me as if no one could believe that beard. I pulled out that old fallback about Santa's helpers. Lisa, 5, knew better: "It was too Santa." I can imagine their later conversations on the matter.

Ava, dealing with a bout of the terrible twos, fussed her way through lunch until the wonderful Glenbrook North High School Express choir caught her eyes and ears. Moving closer to Uncle Bill, she soon was placidly resting her head on and then climbing onto his lap, a spontaneous and tranquil moment that touched us all, one that she was too young to remember. Sadly, we won't be out east this year to see our newest granddaughter, Julia, but when we were there on Thanksgiving, we saw her excitement at new sights.

Now we'll be picturing her bolting and bobbing in surprise at every new color and shape she sees. She's too young to remember; too bad none of us does, either.

And so, why are you sitting there reading a newspaper on Christmas?

Go find someone to childize; go see someone creating life's most precious memories. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

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