Some Proposed Rules Regarding Christmas Etiquette

It has been obvious for the past few years that Christmas has gotten out of hand.  Now it is apparent, too much of a good thing is indeed too much.  As a result, I have proposed a few rules to help people navigate the Christmas season with some sense of decorum.

I do not need to start seeing Christmas items and sections in stores before Halloween.  I swear, I saw some stores with Christmas sections in August this year, and I’m not kidding.  We already have way too many stores doing ‘Christmas in July’ sales.  Pretty soon it will indeed be Christmas all year around.

Rule: Christmas sales and sections should be limited to the day after Halloween (preferably the day after Thanksgiving) through the weekend after New Years Day (for After-Christmas sales).

Christmas decorations are also way out of hand.  There is no need to cover every inch of your lawn and house with Christmas decorations and lights.  Trying to limit yourself to one giant ugly blow-up Christmas item would be preferable.  Also, I see lights going up sometimes before Halloween and staying up as late as March or April.

Rule:  If you think to yourself, I wonder if it would be too much if we…?  It is too much.  Stop it!

Rule: Do not put up any Christmas decorations until the day after Thanksgiving, and take them down by the week after New Year’s Day

Finally, Christmas music played on the radio and in stores is way out of hand.  Some retail outlets and radio stations go to an “All Christmas” format the day after Halloween.  There is no need for this.  One awful result of this is that these stations find any (and I mean ANY) Christmas music, and put it in their playlist.  Unfortunately, every recording artist feels the need to make at least one Christmas album, no matter how bad it might be.  These stations tend to force these horrible songs on their audience because they do not want to play the same music all of the time.

Rule:  Christmas music should not be played before the day after Thanksgiving (and it would be better to wait two more weeks), and should be stopped the day after Christmas.

Rule:  Only play the Christmas standards or legitimate attempts to perform nice Christmas music (so my head will stop exploding).

 

 

 

 

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The Santa Claus Conundrum (Or, Christian Attitudes Toward Santa Claus

Many Christians understandably get confused when they are forced to deal with Santa Claus.  If we include getting presents from Santa Claus in our observance Christmas of the Christmas holiday, are we in essence lying to our children?  How can we observe a holiday based on the birth of Christ, and incorporate a lie in the observance?  Does paying so much attention to Santa Claus take away from Christ?

Well, I don’t really think it is all that complicated.  I know several Christians who simply ‘do not do’ Santa Claus.  I think this is a shame.  I encourage my child to have a good imagination, and I think watching her pretend is a great thing, and a source of entertainment for me as well as her.  Santa Claus teaches children about giving and that being good is often rewarded (and being bad is punished).  These are excellent life lessons for a small child.

The problem seems to revolve mostly around lying to our children.  I personally do not have any problems helping my child keep up the Santa Claus façade.  As long as she wants to believe in him, I will encourage her to do so.  However, I know the day will come when she will ask me straight-up if he is real, and I will tell her the truth.  I will also remind her how much she has enjoyed pretending that there is a Santa Claus, and how she should not ruin the same feeling for other kids who still believe he is real.

I feel sorry for the parents that do not let their children believe in Santa Claus, and likewise, I feel sorry for their children who miss out on part of their childhood.  They are robbing their kids of the chance to take part in a great Western tradition, and much of the wonder that comes with being a child at Christmas.  Often, these children grow up and become embittered by the fact that they did not get to participate in the fun that their friends had.  These are not good feelings for a teenager who is facing other temptations such as sex and drugs from their friends.  I do not want my child left with the feeling that, “Maybe, my parents just don’t want me to have fun.”

On the other hand, I once knew a girl (a twenty something) who said that because her parents lied to her about Santa Claus, she could not trust them.  I have to say that this was one of the most offensive examples of an ingrate that I have ever seen.  So, the fact that her parents got her all of those gifts, and tried so hard to give her a fun childhood meant nothing to her.  In the end, I think she was just looking for a reason to blame her parents for all of her problems, which she did.

The question about whether Santa Claus detracts from Christ at Christmas is a touchier subject.  It is true that Santa Claus is a big part of the secularization of Christmas, but that just means that Christian parents have to do their job, and make sure that their children do know ‘the reason for the season.’

About twenty years ago, Amy Grant’s music was becoming so popular that it was crossing over from the Christian music stations to the pop music stations.  At the time, Christian stations found themselves in a conundrum.  Her music could be interpreted to be either about God, or maybe a friend or boyfriend depending on how you applied the lyrics.  As a result, many Christian music stations found the need to determine if they were still going to play her music or not.  In the end, most played the music because they correctly argued that having young people listen to the music might actually draw them to Christianity.  The same argument works for Santa Claus.  If you prefer, think of Santa Claus as a gateway drug that draws the world to ask, “Why are we celebrating this holiday, anyway?”  As Bart Simpson once said, “Christmas is the time of year when people of all religions come together to worship Christ.”

It is also helpful to remember that the Santa Claus legend is based on Saint Nicholas of Myra who was by all accounts a Christian that anyone would do well to emulate in his life.

Top 10 Live-Action Christmas Movies

I decided that I would put together a list of great Christmas movies, but I quickly realized that I have some serious deficiencies in my knowledge of Christmas movies.  So, I decided to make a list of my top 10 favorite Christmas movies.  I did not include animated films or specials except for The Polar Express (which did not make my top 10 anyway).  After the top ten, I included a list of other Christmas movies that I have seen (most of which I actually like), and finally I included a list of Christmas movies that I have not seen, but probably should see.  This Christmas season, I will make an effort to see several of the movies that I have somehow missed in my life, and see if they deserve to crack the top 10.

10. Muppet Family Christmas- The Muppets just seem to go with Christmas.

9. The Nativity Story- This movie makes it because it is important to remember the reason for the season, and it was not a bad attempt to tell the story.

8. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation- Perhaps the most underrated of the live action Christmas movies with the most enjoyable appearance by the Griswold family since the original.  I really enjoyed it.

7. Elf- Underrated as a Christmas movie and a Wil Farrell film, this is a very enjoyable Christmas tale.

6. The Grinch- This film could easily have been a disappointment.  It would have been hard to improve upon the original animated version of the Dr. Suess classic.  However, Jim Carey is great as the Grinch, and he carries the film very well.

5. White Christmas- This deserves to be in the top 10 if only for the title song which is the best Christmas song of all time even though it is not the first time it was sung on film.

4. Miracle on 34th Street- A nice Christmas classic about believing in Santa Claus.  Greatness.

3. A Christmas Carol- There are a host of versions of the great Dickens tale out there, and most of them are very good.  The story keeps it at the top of my list.

2. A Christmas Story- Honestly, I enjoy watching this film more than any on the list.  I watch it every year a couple of times on TNT, and it is one of my favorite comedies regardless of the fact that it is a Holiday movie.  I have most of the dialogue memorized.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life- To have put A Christmas Story above this movie would have just been wrong.  This movie has become an American icon of the Christmas season, and it deserves to hold the top spot.

 

The movies below are other Christmas films that I have seen, and may have enjoyed.  The ones toward the bottom I liked less.

The Polar Express

Scrooge

Scrooged

The Muppet Christmas Carol

The Sound of Music

Ernest Saves Christmas

Bad Santa

The Santa Claus

Santa Clause 2

Babes in Toyland

The Christmas Shoes

Home Alone

Jingle All the Way

The Ref

Very Brady Christmas 

Christmas with the Kranks

Jack Frost

 

The following is a list of films that I have not seen but probably need to see (except for Black Christmas).

Holiday Inn

Preacher’s Wife

The Man Who Came to Dinner

Christmas in Connecticut

Black Christmas

Mary Christmas

Christmas Comes to Willow Creek

Home for the Holidays

A Holiday to Remember

The Bells of St. Mary’s

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

The Bishop’s Wife

The Christmas Box

Meet Me in St. Louis

Surviving Christmas

The Man Who Saved Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

Black Friday Success

As a man who feels himself in charge of his own destiny, I have developed a set of rules that help me to more effectively enjoy life.  For the most part, if I do not want to do something, and it does not hurt my family, then I do not do it.  For instance, I do not do garage sales.  I find them to be an extreme whipping, and I would rather just give my old useless stuff to a deserving charity.  So, I do.  Another activity that I have chosen not to take part in is the greatest shopping day of the year, also known as Black Friday. 

This year, I have been completing the game room in my home.  This includes a beautiful bar with a pub theme, a couch, bookshelves and seating.  The only thing that was missing was a television.  The plan had been to wait until I received this year’s tax refund, and buy an LCD HDTV, which would be my first.  However, after reviewing our finances, my wife and I had decided to buy one for Christmas, and finish out the room.

We traveled to my in-laws’ house on Wednesday, and prepared for a long Thanksgiving weekend with our little girl receiving loads of attention.  However, when we told my father-in-law of the plan to purchase a television, he went into internet action. 

I had looked at some prices in the past week, and had decided that I would probably be buying an off-brand 40 inch, 1080P for around $800-$900.  My father-in-law, being a veteran after Thanksgiving shopper knew that I had an opportunity to save a significant amount of money.

He looked at several sales, including online sales, and found some good buys.  Then, he ran across the sales ad for Sears.  It had several great buys on televisions.  I was interested in the 46 inch Sharp 1080P LCD HDTV for $899.00.  This was a $500.00 savings, and suddenly I found myself more motivated.

Unfortunately, my in-laws live about 80 miles from the nearest Sears, so my wife and I got up at 3:00 a.m. and set out for Lawton, OK.  First, I needed gas, and that meant finding a station that would sell it to me in Altus.  After three attempts, I obtained gas, and, more importantly, coffee, and we were on our way.

I began to get worried when I passed a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of Lawton at about 4:00 a.m., a full hour before their sale was to begin.  The parking lot way already half full.  Then about 4:20 we got to the mall, and saw that J.C. Penny which opened at 4:00 a.m. was already a madhouse.

We drove around the corner to the Sears, and I felt a little better when I saw the line waiting outside was not too long.  We placed ourselves in the line in the 40 degree weather behind about 60 people, and I was sure that they were all there to buy my television.  As time drew on, the line grew to the end of the building, curved down another wall, and then out of sight around another corner of the building.

The store opened promptly at 5:00 a.m. and the crowd briskly dispersed throughout the store.  We went directly to the televisions.  When we got there, there were already about 50 people roaming around, and grabbing the tags that referenced the various televisions.  We made a great decision when we decided to seek out a salesperson first.  We went to the register where the sales people were quickly devising a plan for dealing with the mayhem.  Their plan was to simply to form a line at each register and deal with the customers two at a time (one at each register).  Luckily the line just materialized behind us, and we ended up being third in line.

I paid close attention, and quickly realized that we had a problem.  The first question that the man at the register asked was what the SKU# was.  We had simply printed the front page of the ad off the internet, and the small print was illegible.  Therefore, I sent my wife in search of the correct SKU# and prayed that she would find it quickly.  She found the only Sharp 46 inch 1080P LCD HDTV on display, and quickly returned with the number.  The man looked it up and said that there were four in stock.  We were relieved and completed the transaction.  He informed us where we needed to go to find the Customer Pick-up department.

We drove around, and easily found the loading area with one empty space still available.  I did not plan this as a commercial for Sears, but let me say, their pick-up department has its ducks in a row.  There was a nice man there who showed me where the machine was that I needed to scan my receipt through.  There was a beep, and I looked up to see my name on a screen just like at an airport.  It showed how many people were in front of me (four), and how long I had waited.

We were waiting patiently when tragedy stuck.  My wife looked at the receipt and realized that we had been charged $1296.00 for the television that was supposed to cost $899.00.  I felt a little sick.  I suddenly had visions of the lines that we had left- the ones that had about fifty people in them apiece when we left several minutes earlier.

I showed the receipt and the ad to the nice man who had helped us a few minutes earlier, and he offered to get the dock manager for me.  The dock manager, Robert, quickly determined that I had bought the wrong Sharp 46 inch 1080P LCD HDTV.  There were two different ones.  I felt sick again because I knew it was my own fault.  I quickly developed an exit strategy.  I would just get my money back, admit defeat, and buy another television that we saw on Amazon.com that was a 42 inch Sony for the same price.  However, before I could even say a thing, Robert said, “Come this way, I can fix this.”  He quickly reversed the charges on the first television and sold us the new one.  After thanking both men profusely, we were loaded and on the road in only about five more minutes.  We drove back to my in-laws’ house and climbed back into bed at about 7:00 a.m.

Success.

Death From Below

I have a few stories that I refer to as my “The Lord is My Shepherd Stories.”  These stories contain a common theme.  In each case, I give the Lord credit for either flat out saving my life, or helping me to get out of the situation before everything went to hell.

The first one took place on a deer lease that my father and uncles had in the Possum Kingdom area in Texas.  This particular lease was a bow hunting lease.  It was a great place for a kid to bond with the men of his family, and to learn many good life lessons, such as where food comes from, and how great that food can taste when it is cooked on an open fire in the great outdoors.

There were several perils for the average 10 year old.  Oddly, there were a couple of mountain lions on the lease.  These were part of a re-establishment program instituted by game officials. We knew something was not normal when 45 lbs of deer offal disappeared in about 30 minutes one day after a hunter had made a kill and field dressed a deer.  We questioned game wardens when they came onto the lease, and they admitted the existence of the cats, and reminded us of their protected status.  They had been relocated to the state park which backed up to our lease, and had moved onto the ‘mountain’ on our lease.  After that, the men carried pistols for protection.

Once, a large rattlesnake was killed about 30 feet from camp on the way to the two-hole outhouse.  On another occasion, a skunk waltzed into camp with a dog present.  This was not so dangerous, but sure smelled that way.  It was funny how suddenly a beloved pet became referred to as ‘that damn dog!’  I also remember eating armadillo a couple of weeks before I found out that they can carry leprosy.  Luckily, I have not lost any body parts yet.

Probably, the most likely things to cause pain to a 10 year old with a short attention span were the plethora of well placed cacti that seemed to be all over the place.  Prickly Pear cactus hurt, and those spikes can raise a nicely festered sore wherever they get you, but the worst are the little furry ones that are shaped like silos, known as a barrel cactus.  That’s not fur.  It is a bunch of evil that only the devil could dream up.  Rub a sock up against one of these, and you might as well throw it away.  You’ll never get all of those little hairy needles out.

Then there was the Skreech, but that is a story for another post.

With all of this danger lurking around every corner on the deer lease, it was surprising that I it was such a small thing that could have actually killed me.  The fateful day began with breakfast, of course, and then we got ready to go gather some wood for the fire.  It was early in the season, so it was still warm, and I started to put shorts on.  My dad, however, told me to wear pants.  I am not sure why, it had never been an issue for him before, but he did not back down even though I know I laid on some pretty good whining.

On this particular lease, there were frequent large piles of trees and stumps that had been uprooted by either the land owner, the oil company that leased the land or the Corps of Engineers.  These were prime varmint and snake habitat, but they were a great source of dead, seasoned firewood, as much as we could ever want.  We only had to drive about 200 yards from camp in order to saw up the wood, and load the truck up from a big pile of wood.

I was too young to wield a chainsaw, and was just in the way for the most part, stumbling around and watching the men do the real work.  It was while I was kicking around the edges of the woodpile that I felt a pain on the back of my neck.  Almost immediately, I felt a pain in my left arm, and then one on my right arm.  I realized that I was being stung.  It is these types of events where time seems to slow down.  I looked down and saw a little hollow stump about four inches across and three inches high between my legs.  There was a hole on the middle that went into the ground, and out of it hundreds, possibly thousands of what we later determined to be wood wasps (small yellow and black striped insects that look like a tiny hornet with an enlarged head).

I took off and ran as fast as I could all the way back to camp, receiving a couple of parting shots as I ran on my arms.

My father and uncles followed me back to camp, and that is when I realized that I would probably have been killed if I had won the argument over the pants with my father earlier in the day.  My uncles proceeded to take a couple of sticks and rake hundreds of the little wasps off of the legs of my pants and into the fire.  I guess this is what the Bible means when it says, “Honor your father and mother, and your days will be long upon the Earth.”

In the end, I was stung only five times.  My dad, who was twenty feet away, took one in the neck, and one of my uncles received a couple of stings also.  My dad tried to impart a little wisdom to be by saying, “Boy, if you had just stood still, and not ran, they would not have stung you!”  I countered this argument but reminding him that he had stood still, and still got stung even though he was twenty feet away.  “And besides that,” I added, “I think that the bees would have noticed the big thing that was standing over their nest that was not there a minute ago.”

One of the other hunters chewed tobacco (gross), and he wet some (no, not in his mouth), and put it on my stings.  It seemed take the pain and swelling away almost immediately.  I recommend it, though I am not a doctor.  To this day, I have a slight phobia associated with the flying, stinging insect, and I still do not have any regrets for running as fast as I could away from them that day.

Things that I am Thankful for

As I edge toward Thanksgiving Holiday, I ask myself what it is that I am actually thankful for.  Daily, it seems that we are being bombarded with news of the bad economy, and being a Republican is nothing like it was a decade ago, but here goes.

I am thankful that I am a Christian.  I may not hold to many of the more fundamentalist (or liberal) views of modern Christian denominations, but I believe that Christ died for my sins, and am thankful that my God is a god of grace who loves me in spite of my many failings.

I am thankful for my family.  I am thankful for my lovely wife and my wonderful little daughter.  Every day is a new adventure when you have a two year old.  My wife and I may be a good pair, but it is the little girl that completes both of us.

I am thankful for the grandparents.  My mom is wonderful with my daughter, and she does everything thing she can to help us through the everyday life situations that sometimes come up.  My in-laws are also great.  This year, there were a couple of times when I had to work some extended hours (once I put in an extra 155 hours in a month).  My mom and my in-laws really came through by coming to stay with us for weeks at a time so that the baby would not have to be in day care for eight hours a day or more.  To top that all off, this summer while I was having to work so many hours, my father-in-law practically put in a bar that I had been planning to do by himself, and it looks as good as a master carpenter could do.

My sister, her husband and my niece who is slightly older than my daughter are also a blessing.  We will not be spending Thanksgiving together this year because we will be at the in-law’s house, and my sister, who would normally be at her in-law’s house, will be staying at home because she is pregnant with what will be my new nephew.  Yeah!

I am thankful that I was born an American in Texas and in the Dallas area.  There is no place I’d rather be.

I am thankful for my education, the fact that I have a good job, and a good boss who appreciates the work that I do, and I am thankful that I have a customer base that, for the most part is easy to work with.

I am thankful that my wife likes some of the programming that I like to watch on television, and that she is willing to sit beside me and act like she likes some of the other programming that I watch.  I am also thankful that I live in the age of the DVR.

I am thankful that I live in an area that has a lot of sports related outlets.  Between, the Cowboys, Rangers, Stars and Mavericks, Dallas covers the sports world well, but it would be nice to see a World Series come through here.  We even have a professional soccer team, FC Dallas.  There are also three professional minor league baseball teams, several universities, and Texas high school football to satiate the sports fan.  And, of course we have the best local sports radio in the country, Sports Radio 1310, the Ticket.

I am thankful that I live in a safe, affordable neighborhood with good schools that my daughter will one day attend.

I am thankful that Texas still does not have a state income tax.

I am thankful that I have a few friends that go back as far a high school, and that I know I can trust at least one of them with pretty much anything.

I am thankful that I will not have to do anything to assist with the cooking of Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I am thankful that my father-in-law finally paid for the local channels to be put on his Dish Network plan so it will not be snowing during all of the football games that I plan to watch this week.

I am thankful that I live in a time, and in a country where I can publish any opinion that I wish to anyone in the world who wishes to read it, for free (thanks, WordPress).  Being a student of history, I know that freedom of speech has been a rarity throughout the history of mankind, and I respect a person’s right to have an opinion even if I do not agree with what the person is saying.

I could go on forever, but suffice it to say, I am thankful.

Lincoln’s Bixby Letter

When I saw a story about the Bixby Letter being found in Dallas, I was intrigued.  I had never heard of the document, and I am a big Lincoln fan.  So, after finding the text of the letter, I decided that I would reprint it so that others who were looking might be able to read it as well.  Enjoy.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln