Patience is a virtue, especially at Christmastime

family, Christmas, family holiday gathering
The night before Christmas. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Patience is a virtue, especially at Christmastime.

Some people, however, just can’t wait for Christmas. I’m not talking about the giddy children anxiously anticipating what might lie beneath the festooned tree on Christmas morning.

Holiday commercials, promotions, and displays showered themselves upon us well before Halloween. Decorations and pre-holiday sale items sprouted in retail stores before autumn leaves had reached their peak.

Every year, the onslaught of Black Friday opens the floodgate to the Christmas shopping season. Besides profit, I wondered what the rush was all about. If there is a war on Christmas, surely this is it. The commercialization of a blessed, annual holiday demeans the true meaning of the season.

For me, Christmas is about waiting, not rushing. Life passes by in a flash the way it is. Why accelerate it all the more, especially at such a celebrative occasion? Let’s treasure this special time of year.

Christmas tree, Bruce Stambaugh
Christmas tree. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Christmas is about expectation. My childhood memories are filled with fondness for the days leading up to Christmas. Whether real or imagined, a certain inexplicable stir was in the air filling us with excited glee.

At school, crayon-colored paper ornaments, stars, wreaths, and candy canes replaced the finger painted turkeys on the classroom windows. We drew names for the gift exchange, one-dollar limit.

Children began combing through Sears catalogs to assist them in making their Christmas lists. Santa got them in plenty of time.

Those days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed to just linger. Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, it was as if time ticked in slow motion.

The excitement and anticipation of the holidays built with each passing day. Christmas was the mountaintop, and we started climbing the slope one step at a time only after Thanksgiving.

nativity scene, Christmas, hope
Nativity. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Our father enjoyed the holiday season as much or more than his five offspring. On a frigid night, Dad loaded us up in the family sedan to welcome Santa’s arrival at the end of the annual Christmas parade in the downtown blue-collar Ohio city where we lived.

We visited city centers in Akron, Canton and Cleveland more to window shop than Christmas shop. Customer friendly department stores with familiar names like Higbee’s, Polsky’s, and Kobacker’s all decorated their display windows with exquisite Christmas scenes.

Those stores are no more. A lot has changed since then.

Amid all of today’s commercials, online ads, daily deluges of discounts on everything from candles to Cadillac’s, it’s easy to get caught up in the race to Christmas. Doesn’t all of that actually run counter to the Advent season itself?

Historically, Christmas was all about hope, waiting, and watching. When the actual event occurred, only a few people recognized what had happened. Even then, most didn’t seem to fully comprehend.

Shepherds and kings from afar were struck with glorious awe at the event we now call Christmas. Others never even noticed

advent candles, Christmas decorations
Advent candles. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
because of their preconceived notions. As that story has been retold year after year, generation after generation, the characters involved in that first Christmas became the icons of how we now celebrate the season, Santa not included of course.

Christmas is a couple of weeks away. Will we rush our way to it, or will we wait and watch, and anticipate all the precious joys the day and the season have to offer?

Maybe it’s just my age. But I’m going to do my best to savor this season one day at a time. How about you?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Gifts come in all kinds of packages

raysofbeautybybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s the gift-giving season again. I think the TV commercials started just after Labor Day.

If you follow their lead, it’s spend, spend, spend to please your loved one with just the right gift. That certainly might help the economy, but not your budget. It doesn’t have to be that way. Gifts don’t need to be expensive to be appreciated. In fact, they don’t even need to be purchased. Please note I am not endorsing shoplifting as an option.

Gifts come in all kinds of packages. The most precious don’t need to be unwrapped. We just need to be alert enough to recognize them when they surreptitiously present themselves.

smilesallaroundbybrucestambaugh
Pick your smile.

A friend recently shared that she smiled at a stranger in a store. The man, who could have qualified in age as her grandfather, walked away, stopped and returned to her. He told my friend that her smile had made his day, and he wanted to thank her for her thoughtfulness. He said he seldom sees people smile any more. I thought that a perfect example of the kind of gift giving that really counts. The young woman was so impressed with the man’s comments that she eagerly shared the encounter with others. I hope the man passed his gratitude on with a smile of his own.

If we listen to the seasonal marketing hype, Advent is more corporate than celestial. Of course, if we take my friend’s approach, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The gifts enjoyed most happen freely everyday.

A recent sunrise was a thing to behold. Thick clouds covered the rising sun, yet bands of rays somehow squeezed through and fanning out to create an incredible heavenly display.

redbreastednuthatchbybrucestambaughLater that morning a Red-breasted Nuthatch snatched seeds precision like from pinecones my wife had gathered and placed in a bowl to decorate an old wash bench on the back porch. The little bird was too quick for my camera.

Later that evening, we sat around the dining room table exchanging touching stories with trusted and trusting friends. We lamented and laughed at our common situations. Unwavering, lifetime friendship is a priceless gift.

The perfect gift also could be something as simple as discovering your driver’s license is about to expire. The startling realization turned out to be a rich blessing. I rushed to the license bureau where the employees had just dealt with a pretty crusty customer. Not to be distracted from their normal good humor, they treated me like a king, and I walked away with a new license and an uplifted spirit.

At the doctor’s office, I meet an acquaintance I only see on occasion. We talked until I was called in for my appointment. Good thing, too, or we’d still be talking. You know how men are.

sunsetflyoverbybrucestambaughI received a card with a hand written note of appreciation from a friend. It was given for the sole purpose of expressing gratitude for our friendship. I placed the note where I can see it every morning.

A day ended with the sun showing its artistic ability. As a flock of Canada Geese flew overhead, a palette of pastels filled the evening sky. It was another fleeting and inspiring gift that cost only the time to notice.

At this special time of year, what are some of the gifts that you have received that you didn’t have to unwrap? Better still, what are some that you will give?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012