Rudolph? Charlie Brown? Here’s my favorite Christmas story of all

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I know this will sound weird, kids, but once upon a time we had to wait to watch TV shows. There was no cable TV, DVRs or even VHS recorders.

We had to actually plan to watch a TV show or else miss it completely. We had this wonderful little magazine called TV Guide, which we purchased each week at the supermarket checkout, and we’d go through it and mark all the shows in advance that we didn’t want to miss.

Imagine that … waiting for information printed on paper to arrive. How bizarre, right?

Fellow newspaper folks, let’s just gather in the corner and weep a little. Someday, someone will be reminiscing about us.

Oddly enough, I’m growing nostalgic for those days when we didn’t have every single thing at our fingertips at every moment … when we wrote letters and waited to receive them, waited for the newspaper to arrive, or our favorite TV show to come on. Waiting makes us feel delicious anticipation. Those under 30 probably haven’t experienced delicious anticipation, because they don’t have to wait for anything, nor do they have to plan for anything.

I’m discovering that learning to wait and not having everything you want at every moment cultivates patience, planning and time management. If you fail at one, you’d miss your TV show, particularly those annual shows that ushered in Christmas, beginning with “The Wizard of Oz” in November. Miss it, and you’d have to wait another year to see it again.

I know – if you’re under 30: Mind. Blown.

We’d joyfully watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” because it meant Christmas Day was coming! There was also something extremely comforting about a beloved holiday story, even year after year. I’m sure I’m not the only one in the room who can recite most of the lines from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by heart, right along with the movie.

Because Bumbles bounce!

If that line didn’t make you smile … I pity you.

These being turbulent times, I think a familiar Christmas story, one some of us have heard before, is just what we need. Since TV won’t provide it, I will. I first told this story in 2000 — one of my favorite Christmas stories of all time, because unlike flying reindeer and singing snowmen, this story really happened, right here in Winters.

So, get your blankies and gather ’round — it’s story time. Those of you who’ve already heard this story can cuddle into the comfort and familiarity of a cherished Christmas story.

The spirit of Christmas

I ran into a friend of mine, Melanie, on the street one Christmas Eve not long ago, and she was just as worn out from all the hustling and bustling as I was, so we took a moment to commiserate. Where did all the time go! There was just never enough time to get everything finished in time for Christmas.

Melanie was feeling particularly stressed that year, and getting the tree trimmed seemed like a monumental task. Her family tradition was to bring home a large, gorgeous Christmas tree and painstakingly decorate it with beautiful heirloom ornaments. She and her children would fuss over it until it was truly a work of art. Her eldest daughter, a teenager, was a perfectionist when it came to the Christmas tree. It had to be “just so.”

That particular year, Melanie was overwhelmed with parties and shopping and coughs and colds. Time was evaporating rapidly, and she hadn’t even purchased a Christmas tree yet, let alone decorated one. One day, at a school fundraiser, decorated trees were being auctioned off. Melanie was overjoyed. Here was her answer! Time and energy saved, and all for a good cause.

Unfortunately, the big, fancy trees were out of her price range. The tree she ended up with was not a beautiful flocked white fir adorned with doves and silver bells. It was a small, chintzy fake tree, bare of any decorations except plain white twinkle lights built into the branches. True, it was the auction booby prize, a tree only Charlie Brown could love, but by God, it was a tree, and it was decorated. Under the circumstances, it fit the bill.

Melanie took the tree home, set it in the living room and heaved a sigh of relief. When her daughter came home and discovered that the tree was not a joke, she did a Mt. St. Helens. Melanie yanked her chain up short. She sat her right down on the couch, and gave her a long, heartfelt lecture on the Spirit of Christmas.

The true Spirit of Christmas, she explained, is not about presents and tinsel and extravagance. It’s not about fancy Christmas trees. The true Spirit of Christmas is about love and family and togetherness, and being grateful for the roof over your head, the loved ones around you, and being blessed with good health and a full dinner table.

Melanie finished her story with that sincere, dewy-eyed gaze mothers fix on their children, after a special moment when they’ve touched their hearts in a deep, tender spot. She placed her hand gently on her daughter’s shoulder.

“Now do you understand the Spirit of Christmas, honey?” she asked.

Her daughter promptly stood up, grabbed the tree and dashed it against the wall with all her might.

“F@#$ the Spirit of Christmas!” she screeched, and stomped upstairs.

There was only one thought going through Melanie’s mind at that point: “I should be drinking brandy.”

Some of you know exactly what Melanie was feeling — that wistful, amused sense of defeat that only your offspring can instill in your heart. If your children are too young for you to be able to relate to that emotion, here’s some advice: start stocking up on the brandy now. Trust me, someday you’ll need it.

In the meantime, hope you had yourself a merry little Christmas. We all muddled through somehow.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at; read more of her work at and

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