When Christmas Got Purse-onal

We still remember it as the Great Purse Christmas. 

The story starts with Missy, as so many do. Missy has a love for the season that is both passionate and unfeigned, and my wife Heather and I have learned her enthusiasms well over the years that we’ve cared for her. 

Carols? Play them anytime! 

Lights? Let’s go see them every night! 

The Grinch? Yes, please! 

It makes Christmas Day really fun to watch, especially since Missy’s tastes are pretty simple. New puzzles. Coloring books. Exciting stories for bedtime. Music by the score. 

And, of course, purses. 

It’s less pronounced now, but for many years, Missy’s constant companion was a big red purse, packed with half the universe inside it. Anyone venturing into its depths would unearth flash cards, stuffed animals, crumpled-up comics, a partridge in a pear tree …. as well as a ripped lining and bursting seams from holding so much for so long. 

So one Christmas, Heather and I saw the state of her current handbag and decided that a new red purse would be just the thing for Missy to find under the tree. 

As it happens, we had some company. 

Come the day, Missy got not one … not two … but FOUR red purses under the tree. Each one a different size, style and shade. The hilarity grew as the bags multiplied. 

“You mean you …?” 

“Oh, no!” 

“Wow, Missy ….” 

As communicators, we had failed pretty miserably. But as gift-givers, we had succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. 

Missy was over the moon with joy, wealthy beyond words. And all of us had unwrapped a new story to share and re-share. 

You can’t ask for a better Christmas than that. 

It’s easy to get hyper-focused on the stuff, tempting to see Christmas Day as the here-at-last finish line of a long December march. But the day was always meant to be a beginning, not an end. And the best present has always been the gift of each other, wrapped in stories and memories and love. 

Here at Chez Rochat, it’s rare for a present to be opened without a tale or an explanation from the giver. It might be as simple as “I never thought this would get here in time” or a mighty seasonal epic of desperate searches and sudden discoveries. But with each telling, we strengthen a bond and reinforce a message: “I thought of you. I care. And I want you to know how much you mean to me.”

After all, we’re storytelling creatures. It’s how we make sense of the world, sometimes even how we transform it. Most of all, it’s how we become an “us,” tied together for the moment – or maybe longer – by a common understanding and shared vision.

The story now begins anew, today and every day. Write it well. Share it often. Celebrate it with others and watch it grow as your story joins theirs, making both richer.

Together, we can write a new year worth remembering. One where the real gifts aren’t just tucked away in a dark corner of December, but shared throughout. I’m confident we can do it.

In fact, I think it’s in the bag.

Logging Out

Once upon a time, the symbol of midwinter was the Yule log. Now it’s the forelog.

If you’ve never heard the term, please allow my Word Geek Brain™ to make the introductions. You know how after you come back from a vacation or holiday, the “backlog” is all the stuff you have to catch up with? Well, the “forelog” comes on the other end. It’s the piles and piles of things you have to take care of before you can relax.

And my oh my, does the forelog burn bright at the holidays.

We hustle here, there and everywhere like Santa without a sleigh. Gotta buy the gifts. Gotta WRAP the gifts. Only wait, did we remember Scotch tape? Never mind that, gotta plan for company. Gotta clean for company. Check the work schedule. Check the flight schedule. “What do you mean, they’re coming in on Christmas Eve?”

Pant. Gasp. Pant.

You know, I’m starting to understand the Grinch more and more every year.

If it were just sheer social obligation, it would be one thing. But for most of us, most of the time, it’s coming from the best of places. We want to be welcoming to friends and family and neighbors. We want to help co-workers out before the holidays hit. And of course, we want to give the season that we received, so many times from so many people through so many years.

And in a way, that makes it harder. When we get tired – and we will get tired – it’s easy to turn it inward as an accusation. “I should be doing more. They deserve better. I’m not a good person.”

Stop. Stop. And stop.

In a season of love and kindness, it’s time to show some to ourselves as well.

It sounds selfish. It really isn’t. In a way, it’s a reflection of the adage that so many of us learned long ago, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” As my old math teacher might put it, that statement’s reflexive – it suggests that we also need to show the same kindness to ourselves that we would show to a neighbor.

No, it’s not easy. It never has been.

But we need it, as surely as any gift we’ve ever found under a tree.

We need to remember that we deserve good things, too. Not the “stuff” that gets piled up in boxes and bags, but the essential gifts. Kindness. Grace. Love. Forgiveness.

All of us are carrying a lot, whether at the holidays or any other time. None of us know the full extent of each other’s burdens. Sometimes we don’t even know the full extent of our own – we’re just trudging on as best we can, tottering under the load.

It’s OK to pause in the midst of the chaos. No … it’s essential. Take a moment to look at yourself as you would your best friend. Show the kindness you would show to them. Say the words you would say.

One of our family’s favorite bands, the a cappella group Face, had just the right words for it in a song called “Pick Your Head Up.” The chorus declares “The things that you say to yourself are words you’d speak to no one else.”

I try to remember that. To keep my words from being a weapon pointed inward.

If you’re in a place where you need to remember, too, I hope this helps. Know that you deserve the light. We all do.

The forelog will pass. But the strength you find and the flame you kindle can be a gift that lasts.

Better yet – it becomes a gift you can share.

Lift it up. And let it glow.

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.

Rolling With Joy

When Missy gets hold of a pair of dice, watch out. Magic is likely to happen. 

“YEAH!!” 

Missy’s developmental disabilities make it difficult for her to take part in a lot of games. But when dice need rolling, cards need drawing or any kind of random factor enters in, she quickly takes the spotlight. Not only does Missy roll with gusto, she typically rolls well – to the point where we’ve sometimes claimed her as our family’s secret weapon at holiday board games. 

It’s given her an impressive winning streak against my wife Heather at Candy Land. 

It helped her trounce all comers – roughly a dozen players or so – in a sprawling Yahtzee battle. 

And yes, it gave her just a little frustration at our last gathering when that famous luck went south for a while, producing 1’s and 2’s on the dice instead of 5’s and 6’s. No one’s perfect, right? 

Even so, I’ve still been tempted to have her pick our lottery numbers. We’ve learned to respect the gift – and more importantly, to appreciate the glee. 

You see, that’s the best part. Missy LOVES being “the roller.” It lets her play on an equal level with everyone else. More than that, it lets her be appreciated, even celebrated at times. 

For her, it’s a pathway to joy. 

And she’s far from the only one. 

I don’t want to throw the word around casually. I’m not  just referring to a brief burst of happiness, though that’s often a side effect. Joy is tougher than that, something that sustains you even when the circumstances don’t. If “hope” is the willingness to work toward a positive outcome that you desire but can’t yet see, then “joy” is the fuel for the fire that keeps you moving, letting you hold each moment close for what it is.

That’s not an easy thing. Especially these days. 

Many of us are tired. Many of us have losses. And when everything in the season starts shouting at us to “Celebrate! Celebrate!”, sometimes it just piles more on. We feel out of place … if we have the energy left to feel anything at all. 

But when we find a place – not the one the world wants to give us, but one that’s truly our own – something opens up.

When we can share appreciation for another – however simple and small it may seem – that something spreads.

Remember the Charlie Brown Christmas tree? Bedraggled, overlooked, but able to flourish with some support and love. Not unlike Charlie Brown himself, for that matter: mocked in the role that others tried to give him, but triumphant despite himself when he put it aside to reach out to something neglected.

We all have light to share. Not “jobs to do,” with the grinding sense of obligation that can imply, but a little spark that’s part of who and what we are. Maybe it’s just a glimmer, barely visible to anyone else.

But if you put enough glimmers together, they become a chandelier.

That’s what joy can be.

That’s what we can be.

May we all share in that gift, this season and beyond, with a joy that not only sustains but welcomes. May it become second nature, but never taken for granted.

Magic happening? Why not?

After all, this is how we roll.

Branching Out

Pinch, pull, twist. Pinch, pull, twist.

It sounds like the world’s strangest football chant. Or maybe a post-Thanksgiving exercise routine. (“And PULL and TWIST … c’mon, burn off that stuffing!”) Both wrong, although the second one’s close.

Namely, this was the welcoming ceremony for our new Christmas tree. An exercise in focus, patience and tedium second only to being a Colorado Rockies fan.

Perhaps I should explain.

I’ve been part of the Fake Tree Faction since childhood, when my folks decided that cleaning up pine needles (and dealing with pets who found the ones they missed) was not how they wanted to spend a significant fraction of December and January. The plastic pine they purchased – say THAT five times fast! – became part of family legend. That was partly because it also became a family journal, with each of us writing a short note about the year gone by as we unpacked the tree each winter.

So when Heather and I struck out on our own, a false fir was de rigueur. For a while, it became a pre-lit tree, with the noble intention of saving our none-too-good spinal columns from having to twist a strand of lights from top to bottom. But of course, a pre-lit tree has its own distinct evolutionary pattern:

  • Stage 1: “Oh, how beautiful!”
  • Stage 2: “Honey, I think some of the lights are out.”
  • Stage 3: “Honey! I think some of the lights are actually ON!”

After dealing with too many Stage 3 situations, we surrendered and bought an unlit pine this year. One that came with a warning that we’d need to spend some setup time to make it look right.

Boy, were they NOT kidding.

The branches on each level looked like sheaves of wheat or maybe rolled-up newspapers, tightly bunched around a central limb. Transforming it from “greenish hat-rack” to “fully-formed pine” would require shaping each branch – namely, by pinching the tip of a smaller sub-branch, pulling it free of the mass and then twisting it in the direction you wanted it to go.

Pinch, pull, twist. Over and over. For at least 20 to 30 minutes that felt like an entire presidential administration.

Remember what I said about preventing back pain? Don’t.

As so often happens, the result was worth the effort. When fully fluffed out, the tree stood tall and proud, a sentinel of the season. Especially that part of it called hope.

We use that word a lot this time of year without really thinking about what it needs. It’s not the magical expectation that a tree will leap to life from the box as soon as you cut the tape free. It’s knowing where you want to be and then putting in the effort to get there, no matter how frustrating or difficult it may become.

Hope starts with a vision. But it doesn’t end there. Real hope stays for the long haul, motivating and pushing until you cross the finish line. It’s the knowledge that “You can do this!”, not the illusion that “This will be easy to do!”

This season of the year is often about a culmination of hope, a promise that after a long darkness, light still comes. The waiting and endurance are still real. But so is the glimmer that waits at the end, shining in darkened streets.

Remember that. Hold on. Keep the vision alive and work to make it real.

And if your vision includes a simpler way to shape a plastic pine, I’ll be sending you an invitation to visit for the holidays next year.

Fir sure.

Waiting for the Light

“When are we going?”

“Not quite yet, Missy.”

That’s not an unusual exchange in our house at most times. Missy, after all, is one of the world’s quiet extroverts – a person of few words (due to her developmental disability) who loves to be around people. Even the most mundane errand often sprouts an eager tagalong, even if there’s barely time to smile at the checkout clerk.

But as the evenings get longer and the air gets colder, the question becomes The Question. When she asks after dark, Missy’s not looking for crowds.

She’s looking for lights.

And these days, she’s not alone.

If you regularly stop by this column, you may know that Missy and I make a series of holiday light runs across all of Longmont through the holiday season. And if you haven’t dropped in from Andromeda, you know the season for lights and other holiday decor keeps getting earlier and earlier.

Long, long ago, the excitement started on Christmas Eve, kicking off the celebrated “twelve days of Christmas.” In fact, it was considered bad luck to decorate any earlier than Dec. 24.

A few generations ago, that shifted to Thanksgiving. After a day of good turkey and bad football, it was time to dig out the ladder and start hanging up the roof lights … once you’d shaken off the exhaustion of consuming 10,000 calories in one go, of course.

These days, and especially since the pandemic, it seemed to be fair game any time after Halloween. Our own family’s earliest record is the day after Veterans Day (attention must be paid) but some homes seem to have the clock-change motto of “Spring Forward, Fall Back Into a Blaze of Glory.”

it’s not hard to guess why. In times that feel dark – both literally and metaphorically – it’s natural to reach for all the light we can get. Some studies have even shown that early decorating can lift spirits, tapping into a reservoir of nostalgic feelings.

For myself, I worry a little bit about making the magical mundane. When something special becomes ubiquitous, it risks losing some of its wonder. We start to tune out what’s always there, and it would be a shame to consign something so brilliant to the realm of the ordinary.

But here’s the thing: it’s not a hard boundary. Each of us knows what our heart needs. And if reaching for a strand of colored lights brings you joy at a moment you need it, I’m not going to be the Christmas cop. (Likewise, if reaching for NO lights keeps your soul content, that’s OK, too.)

We all push back the shadows however we can. And anytime we can strengthen joy or ease pain, we’ve made the world a little better – regardless of the season.

That doesn’t require lights on the house. Just lights in the heart, as often as we can kindle them.

So best wishes to you, whether your own seasonal colors are spread across the front lawn or tightly packed in cardboard. Whatever you celebrate, however you do it, may it give you the strength and reassurance you need in the time ahead.

And in a couple of weeks, when Missy and I hit the road at last, we’ll make sure to wave as we go by.

To the Letter

This December, Missy and I have been reading someone else’s mail. And it’s been magical.

“Ok, Missy, are you ready for Father Christmas?”

The eager smile as I opened the book said it all.

Every year, our bedtime reading with Missy takes in at least one holiday classic. We’ve done “The Story of Holly and Ivy,” “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” and even “A Christmas Carol.” But given how much Missy enjoys magical stories, I’m kind of surprised it took us this look to reach for “Letters From Father Christmas.”

If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a slim volume by J.R.R. Tolkien. Yes, the Hobbit guy. His children, like many, wrote letters to Father Christmas each year … and in their case, Father Christmas wrote them back. The resulting correspondence from the North Pole (which included hand-drawn pictures) stretched from the 1920s until the early 1940s, when the last of the four young Tolkiens finally grew beyond “stocking age.”

During that period, they could count on getting all the latest news. One year might be the humorous misadventures of what the well-meaning North Polar Bear had broken THIS year. Another might tell of an attempt by goblins to raid the storehouses. And always, whether it was a quick note or a long tale, there’d be the sense of so much going on behind the scenes.

But the collection is also an indirect chronicle of the family itself. Each Father Christmas letter gives a glimpse of the children at the other end: the teddy bear collection, the railroad enthusiasm, the year one child tried sending Father Christmas a telegram in the off-season.  And as they grow, it’s clear that the gifts of love and wonder given by the letters lasted far beyond the holiday.

That’s something worth recapturing now.

I know. By this time of year, most of us are pretty exhausted. And lately, when New Year’s starts to appear on the horizon, we greet it with more resignation than excitement. If Dec. 31 had a motto for the 2020s, it would probably be “Well, thank goodness THAT one’s over.”

But long after candles have been snuffed, trees have come down and lights packed away, we still have the gift of each other. And we have to give it well, whatever the time of year.

We give it to neighbors when we help each other face the challenges of the world, whether it’s a snowstorm, a pandemic, or just a chore that’s too much for one person to do alone.

We give it to friends when we celebrate their joys and ease their trials, even if all we can do is listen and understand.

And yes, we give it to our children when we help them grow with an open heart and a spirit of curiosity and wonder. That, most of all, ensures the gift will continue.

It doesn’t require handwritten letters with a North Pole postmark (though I suppose it never hurts). Even in Tolkien’s day, that was just the gift-wrapping.  It starts with awareness – noticing other people, remembering that they matter, and then treating them that way.

Sounds simple, I know. But when we remember to do it, it has the power of a child receiving Father Christmas’s personal attention: a reminder that they’re seen, they’re important and they’re cared for.

So don’t let that spirit stop at Jan. 1. Keep being the gift.

After all it’s always a good time to be living in the present.

A Partridge in a WHAT?

I have a lot of sympathy for “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Well, not so much the song itself, unless it’s sung by John Denver and a horde of Muppets. But the guy who keeps sending all this stuff – flocks of birds, hired entertainers, maybe a bit of jewelry – gets an understanding nod of the head for me.

You see, he clearly has no idea what his true love wants for Christmas. But he’s bound and determined to keep trying until he gets it right.

I think most of us would call that “the holidays as usual.”

Even in the age of Amazon, venturing into the holiday season seems to require the strategic acumen of a general, the adaptability of Star Trek’s Borg and the courage of a quarterback facing half a ton of charging linebackers. After a while, the process begins to feel like one of those middle-school math problems: “So if part 2 of your gift is traveling 1000 miles in five days, but part 1 can cover the same distance in four to seven …”

It’s a formula for merry chaos, even when you know each other well. (Witness the year that Heather and I gave each other the same Muppet movie.) And it gets still more challenging when you add kids to the equation.

Heather and I have half-a-dozen nieces and nephews, all but one of whom are older than pre-school but younger than 13. This puts them all firmly in the Danger Zone of gift giving, where safety lies in answering three questions correctly:

  1. What are they interested in now? (As opposed to last year or maybe even last month.)
  2. What do they already have?
  3. What did Grandma and Grandpa already give them before you even saw the list? (Answer: everything.)

A Las Vegas gambler would tremble at those odds.

And yet, we usually navigate the seas pretty well. Part of it comes from a decent memory of what it’s like to be a kid. Still more of it comes from heavy leaning on the Parental Intelligence Agency, reporting out detailed analyses to would-be family Santas since 2010.

But the biggest reason it generally works out is that the best gifts have already been given. Long before Christmas, in fact.

We’ve given sleepovers. And chats. And out-of-state D&D sessions over Zoom. We’ve had the chance to see them learn and grow (sometimes at a distance of hundreds of miles) and for them to know us as more than just names on a package label.

That’s more precious than even five golden rings. After all, the presents you give may come and go (and come again if you didn’t update the Amazon list). But the presence you give lasts.

That’s the love that lights the season. And well beyond.

I hope the 12 Days guy eventually figured that out. I know a lot of my friends and family have. When you’ve given yourself, you’ve given what matters. The packages and presents are just a bonus.

And if those presents include 12 drummers drumming and 11 pipers piping, I sure hope you included some Excedrin, too.  

Putting the Peaces Together

We shouldn’t have lost Bob McGrath this close to Christmas.

I know. There’s never a good time. But you know what I mean. Big Bird would understand.

If you or your kids grew up watching “Sesame Street,” you know Bob, who passed recently at the age of 90. Part of the adult cast, he was the music teacher with a gentle voice and a kindly manner. Sometimes he’d be introducing the latest “People in Your Neighborhood.” Sometimes you’d see him chatting, both out loud and in sign language, with his character’s deaf girlfriend, Linda.  Once, he famously helped explain the death of store owner Mr. Hooper – as much as anyone could, anyway – to a grief-stricken Big Bird, his own voice shaking as well at the passing of his real-life castmate.

In short, whether in good times or bad, he reflected a spirit of peace. The sort of spirit we celebrate now and really need more of.

I don’t just mean that Bob wasn’t violent. (You never got a lot of that on the Street, anyway.) I don’t even mean that he was quiet and soft-spoken. Peace means more than just “nobody’s fighting.” We’ve all been in uncomfortable situations where nobody’s arguing but nobody feels at ease, carefully keeping their guard up. Many parents know the moment when the kids are behaving with each other, but only because Mom and Dad are watching.

You have peace when you have community. Interconnection. Harmony in the most literal sense of the word: many different voices coming together to make a more beautiful chord. (As a good friend likes to point out, the old Greek word for peace comes from a verb that means “to tie” or “to weave.”)

You have peace when things are as they should be. Not because someone’s sitting on everybody else, but because everyone wants to help make them right. A world where … well, where you truly see the people in your neighborhood.

It’s not always easy. It certainly requires more than just a spirit of “If you don’t make trouble, you won’t get any.” Peace doesn’t do well in isolation. It needs someone to reach out to: to celebrate or console, to make right or support. It can soothe or call for justice, but it doesn’t just walk back into the house and close the door.

In other words, it’s a gift. Maybe one of the most important ones we can give each other, at this time or any other.

Bob’s character spoke to people where they were, whether that required ASL or the ability to connect with a 6-year-old. From what I can tell, the real Bob did exactly the same. People like that matter, especially in a day where so many chasms keep erupting.

And when they leave, that spirit doesn’t have to leave with them. It’s up to us to keep it going and help it spread.

Even when it hurts to remember that missing neighbor.

It’s fitting to end this in his own words, from the Mr. Hooper episode:

“You’re right, Big Bird. It’s … it’s …  it’ll never be the same around here without him. But you know something? We can all be very happy that we had a chance to be with him, and to know him, and to love him a lot when he was here.”

May that be said of all of us.

Peace, everyone.

Feeling “Blue”

We were on Day 3 of the Rochat Family Holiday Light Tour (“All of Longmont! All the lights! No GPS!”) when a certain song hit the airwaves again.

Now, there are approximately 30,000 ways to musically celebrate in December, all of which will sooner or later come out of a car speaker – probably multiple times. It might be the simplicity of a “Silent Night.” Or the driving pulse of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Or the screams of “NO!” from a thousand drivers as George Michael’s “Last Christmas” warns them that they’ve lost the annual Whamageddon contest.

This was none of the above.

Instead, we were treated to the sort of silliness and sentiment that you can only get in the presence of the King.

“Ah-ah’ll ha-ave a bluuuuuue Christmas without yoooou….”

Yes, the Elvis hit. The one with alll the woo-ee-oos in the background, where the Presley-style croons and stutters go so far over the top that they probably hit Santa’s sleigh on the way back down.

I can’t exactly call it a guilty pleasure. But it never fails to draw a chuckle from me, if not an outright laugh, at the unlikeliest Christmas classic in the canon. (With the possible exception of Alvin and the Chipmunks, but that’s another column for another time.)

You see, Elvis didn’t want to do this song.

I mean, REALLY didn’t want to do this song.

The song had already been a country hit for Ernest Tubb, and Presley wanted to leave it with him. When told he had no choice, Elvis tried to deliberately botch the assignment.

“Let’s just get this over with,” he said to his band and background singers, telling them to get silly, even downright bad, so that no one would be tempted to put it on a single. One-and-done, forget about it.

“When we got through,” background singer Millie Krikham said in an interview at the Country Music Hall of Fame, “we all laughed and said ‘Well, that’s one record that the record company will never release.’”

Oops.

You know the rest. Millions of sales. Tons of airplay. “Blue Christmas” became as much a part of the Elvis legend as “Love Me Tender” or “Jailhouse Rock” – despite, and maybe even because of, the decision to let go and get goofy. Reluctance somehow unlocked delight, even joy.

Whether you love or hate the song, I think that’s something we can all sympathize with.

“Let’s just get this over with.” Those are words of the season for an awful lot of us, aren’t they? Too often, a time that should be about love and humanity becomes a bulldozer, inexorable and overwhelming.

We all still have lives beyond the holidays, after all. And when those lives have been carrying too much, it doesn’t necessarily feel like much of a season. So we go through the motions, not expecting a lot.

But that’s the weird thing about joy. It doesn’t wait for the obvious moments. In fact, its greatest strength is when it lies in ambush, touching the ordinary and making it unforgettable.

That’s the real gift of the season. One as old as the hills. And if we reach out just a little – even if it’s just enough to get through – we give ourselves the chance to open it once again.

I hope it finds you this year. Wherever you need it, however you need it.

After all, the best things often come from out of the blue.