Peace and a Hula Hoop

“The Chipmunk Song” is a tool of peace. Really.

No, I haven’t had too much eggnog. Perhaps I should explain.

For my wife Heather, the Christmas season doesn’t really start until she hears the Chipmunks Christmas album, including the squeaky-voiced perennial about how much Alvin wants a hula hoop. (Are you hearing it in your head now? I’m sorry.) It’s one of two albums that gets played when we decorate our tree each year, along with my own family’s tradition of “John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.”

But never mind our tree right now. The really important one in the story is G-ma’s.

“G-ma” was Heather’s Grandma Marilyn. Every year, Heather and her siblings and her mom (and often the rest of us spousal hangers-on) would make the short trek to help put up her tree. There’d be stories and ornaments and minor chaos and everything else you’d expect at such an occasion.

And, at Heather’s insistence, there would also be “The Chipmunk Song.” Because one does. And because G-ma’s laughter and smile at it never changed.

Time passed. And so did G-ma.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, we lost Marilyn in July. It left a hole. It always does when love and memories have grown strong. When the memories belong to a loving, strong-willed and lively soul, that hole gets even bigger.

Especially at the holidays.

There’s something about the season of togetherness that makes the empty chair stand out even more. And when December arrived, it felt off-balance without G-ma’s tree.

So Heather’s family put one up anyway.

A small tree. By the graveside. Decorated, of course. And there in the cold, Heather’s sister decided there was still just one thing missing.

At her suggestion, Heather pulled out her phone. And soon, the tinny strains of “The Chipmunk Song” were pealing out once more.  

All was right.

And that, at its heart, is the picture of peace.

We often misuse the word, shouting “give me some peace!” when a situation gets too loud or contentious. Peace becomes a simple end to conflict, by whatever means, a way of restoring quiet and keeping order.

But there’s an older meaning. One that’s still in the backdrop of a hundred Christmas carols. As a friend of mine likes to note, in old Greek the word means an interweaving, the connections between others that create harmony. When those connections are strong, when all is as it should be, peace reigns.

That’s a powerful gift. One we need badly.

We’re good at dividing, great at shouting, not always so good at listening. Peace demands that we listen, learn and try to understand. That we see those around us as our strength, not our burden. It calls on us to reach out, lift up, and make each other whole.

It’s not always a quiet process and rarely a simple one. But when we honor those connections, we make something beautiful. A beginning. A space. Something that binds us all, even if it’s in the tones of a novelty Christmas song.

The hula hoop is just a bonus.

May peace find you all. In all its meanings. Together, we just may be able to evoke, with a slight alteration, another, older song.

All is calm.

All is right.

It Came Upon the Small Screen Clear

It’s the simple things that mark the arrival of the holidays at Chez Rochat.
Things like discovering which of our pre-lit tree’s lights have pre-burned out, so that we can have the stimulating mental exercise of finding and untangling our old string.
Or the eternal debate as to whether decorating is better done to the strains of John Denver and a chorus of Muppets, or Alvin and his band of helium-voiced chipmunks. (Making the tally “FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!!” versus one “HUUUU-LA HOOOOP!”)
But never is Christmas more surely on the way than when the subsonic tones of  Thurl Ravenscroft begins rumbling from our television speakers.
If you don’t recognize the name, I dare you to read the following words without hearing it in his distinctive voice:
“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch,
 You really are a heel …”
OK, how many sang along?
Thought so.
In a time when traditions seem to have the lifespan of a Raiders fan on Bronco Sunday, a family’s holiday movie choices are all but unshakeable. I have known people who could do without sleigh bells and snow, but would consider the season incomplete if it passed without just one more viewing of Die Hard. (“Yippie-ki-yay to all, and to all a good night.”)
It’s comforting. Reassuring. Familiar, to the point where if the TV burned out, everyone could quote their film of choice letter-perfect – in between jokes about which Clark W. Griswold light display burned things out this time.
For us, it’s a quartet: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Story (yes, the never-ending chronicle of the Red Ryder BB gun) and the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol. These old-school classics have dominated the networks, our shelf space, and significant portions of our family’s  gray matter, to the point where we can mentally count down the moments until Ralphie “didn’t say fudge” or the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come rolls through the graveyard on a hidden scooter board. (Hey, special effects are expensive.)
But these four have a lot more in common than their deathless production values. In each case, the story centers around what we think we want versus what we need.
Charlie Brown sets lights  and aluminum trees  against “what Christmas is all about.” Whoville celebrates not the stolen gifts, but the togetherness that lay at their foundation. Mr. Scrooge famously has his priorities shifted in one night, and even Ralphie’s story, the most materialistic of them all, is less about actually getting the coveted BB gun (which – spoiler alert – loses its charm after one accident, anyway) and more about getting a grown-up to actually listen to him for once and take him seriously.
In each case, it’s not about the stuff. It never really was.
OK, maybe it’s a little corny to say it out loud. But at a time when most of us are frantically trying to get through the holiday decathlon, maybe it’s not bad to claim a moment of quiet and think about why we’re doing all this, beyond muscle memory and social expectation.
Is it just about easily-torn paper and misplaced decorations? Does it really come down to whether we can make enough clicks on Amazon before time and money run out?
Or is there something else? Something not just limited to a few weeks in December?
That’s the real gift. And it’s one we’re all going to need going forward.
Though if you still want that hula hoop, I completely understand.