In the midst of this, we asked ourselves if we could find peace -- or if we ever had found peace -- in the tangle of the holidays. More than just the stopping of cell phones, credit card bills and nearly forgotten relatives, peace has its own identity. It's quiet, and a little bit fragile, and tends to get lost in the shuffle. But if you stop and consider, you might just find a glimmer of hope in your own holiday season. If not, take comfort in the fact the weather will get warmer.
-- MARTY DEMAREST
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & "P & lt;/span & eace on Earth" is a nice sentiment for a holiday greeting card, but as we scan the globe and see that war and suffering are just as prevalent as ever, it can seem hopelessly na & iuml;ve, too. Peace was not always a cause -- actually, the idea was treasonous only a few centuries ago; it only became a "movement" over the past 100 years. One turning point was the creation of that little symbol you see on all those bumpers and T-shirts. Every movement needs a banner -- something universal -- to unite the like-minded people of the world. Like other potent symbols, the peace symbol is not something you just wear, either. You live it.
The symbol has a story, and it pulls on several threads of the same painful tapestry of war. It's a symbol that was born in England in 1653, when a religious leader was faced with being put to death for preaching peace. It was also born in Spain, on May 3, 1808, when thousands of innocents were murdered by Napoleon's troops. And it was even born in 1958, out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as a retired military man steered his little sloop into the face of oblivion.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ut the story starts in 1648, when an odd young man named George Fox could be found preaching around London, but not in churches. He chose to preach in markets, or out in open fields. Fox was pretty clear that Christians should do their best to live without sin. But that was a tough message for the era; Europe's devastating Thirty Years War was ending, and England's own civil wars were underway. Of course Fox's preachings caught the attention of the authorities, nervous that any new sect could spawn even more revolution than was already in the air.
Fox was imprisoned repeatedly; one judge got a laugh by saying Fox would "tremble at the word of the lord." Thus the name "Quakers" was coined, for the religious movement properly known as the Society of Friends. (Quakers fleeing persecution in England settled Pennsylvania.)
By 1653, Fox was viewed as a real threat. The civil wars had ended, and Oliver Cromwell was keeping the peace. He had Fox arrested and brought to London. Speculation was rampant that Fox would soon be found swinging from a hangman's noose.
The two men met, and, to everyone's surprise, Fox was set free. Apparently, as they say in today's peace movement, Fox "spoke truth to power." In his recollection of the meeting, Fox wrote than Cromwell was taken by his brand of Christian worship, and "with tears in his eyes said, 'Come again to my house; for if thou and I were but an hour of a day together, we should be nearer one to the other'; adding that he wished me no more ill than he did to his own soul."
Quakers continued to be persecuted, however, and Fox passed away. But he left intact a religious tradition that would live on and become, in surprising ways, the foundation of the modern peace movement.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s we all know, war persisted. Although the Thirty Years War was the last religious war fought on European soil, the nation states that rose up in its aftermath quickly found plenty of reasons to kill each other.
It was just 150 years later that Europe would be torn asunder again, via the Napoleonic Wars. One of the campaigns in those wars was the Peninsula War (1808-14), fought in Spain and Portugal. This marked another deadly twist, as it was named a guerilla war at the time -- and is still considered the first such war by historians. But as Fox reacted to war in his own lifetime, another man watched the Peninsula War and planted more seeds so that peace might someday bloom among the ruins of his homeland.
The painter Francisco Goya fills a unique niche in art history; he's considered perhaps the last of the old masters and also among the very first of the modernists. While beauty was aesthetic enough for the old masters, Goya added truth to his work.
In the final years of the Peninsula War, Goya turned his eye to the horrors of war. In a series of prints called The Disasters of War, he documented the atrocities being visited on his country with a photographer's honesty. Although not published until 1863, Goya's conscience and skill allowed him to become the first modern anti-war artist.
But it was his depiction of the first days of the war that has lived on even longer. On display at the Prado, The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid was shocking in the 19th century. Painted six years after the events it depicts, it recreates the scene when some 5,000 Madrid citizens were murdered to break the city's spirit. Of course they fought on, as guerillas, and of course many thousands died.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & espite the atrocities of the Napoleonic Wars, humanity didn't seem to learn much. After the 20th century dawned, the world was soon launched into another major war -- World War I. Then a failed peace led to an even wider conflict -- World War II.
Serving in that conflict was one U.S. Navy Commander Albert Bigelow. While steaming back into Pearl Harbor on Aug. 6, 1945, he heard the news of a devastating new weapon that was dropped on Japan.
All these centuries of war and suffering were punctuated by these apocalyptic moments. Humanity had so perfected the art of war that it could now kill a city in a single moment. Wasn't this finally proof that war had to end?
Deeply troubled by the deployment of so deadly a weapon, Bigelow searched for ways to protest the march to madness. Ultimately he found comfort with a religious group -- none other than George Fox's Society of Friends.
Through those connections, Bigelow and his wife Sylvia put up two women from Hiroshima who were in the United States to get plastic surgery. They were badly disfigured from the atomic bomb blast.
Bigelow's faith and experience in war dictated action. He and 12 others were arrested in 1957 when they were caught trying to break into a nuclear test in Nevada. In 1958, Bigelow and four others sailed his 30-foot boat The Golden Rule from California to Hawaii, with an ultimate destination of the Marshall Islands, where the United States would test another nuclear bomb.
Bigelow was arrested and jailed in Hawaii, but not before his mission gained widespread notoriety in the world's press. Another Quaker, Dorothy Stowe of Vancouver, B.C., was so impressed by Bigelow (and his book Voyage of the Golden Rule) that she borrowed his tactics for a little group she formed in 1971 called the Don't Make a Wave Committee. Now we call that outfit Greenpeace.
And as Bigelow sailed out to oblivion, the people of the world saw for the first time an odd symbol waving on a banner above The Golden Rule. The freshly designed nuclear disarmament symbol made its debut. Now we just call it the peace symbol.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & round the time Bigelow was out hunting Japanese subs around the Solomon Islands, an Englishman of fighting age was spending the war years working on a farm in Norfolk. Gerald Holtom, you see, was a conscientious objector.
Nations at war don't like citizens who won't fight, but it's been an issue all the way back to the American Revolution when -- you guessed it -- many of George Fox's Quakers refused to fight. In World War I, some 2,000 Americans who refused to participate in the war at all were locked up. Others with religious or moral misgivings have been allowed to serve off the frontlines in the war effort, often as medics. In World War II, some 12,000 draftees who refused to participate in the war were put to work for the U.S. In England, there were 60,000 conscientious objectors during World War II, and they, like Holtom, were put to work at home.
After the war, like many people, Holtom was horrified by the atom bomb, and he joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. An artist by trade, Holtom created a symbol for the CND to use for an upcoming protest. Basically, the design is intended to mimic the semaphore signals for the letters "N" and "D" ("N"uclear "D"isarmament), but when Holtom thought about it, the simple little symbol had deeper meanings, too -- meanings that stretched across the span of years, connecting with other voices for peace.
As he wrote to Peace News, Holtom said: "I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya's peasant before the firing squad [Holtom refers to The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid]. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it."
Holtom finished the symbol on Feb. 21, 1958, and immediately donated it to the public domain.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & igelow wasn't the only one to latch onto the symbol. The United States' student peace movement was afoot on college campuses at the same time. University of Chicago student and peace activist Philip Altbach visited London in 1960, and brought back to campus with him a bag of buttons with the logo on them. Who cares if they were designed for nuclear disarmament? It would do as a banner to fight against the Vietnam War, too. Or it could even be used to articulate solidarity over the Civil Rights Movement, as Bayard Rustin, an early adopter of the peace symbol, believed.
In the 1960s, Altbach's Student Peace Union reproduced and sold thousands of the buttons on college campuses. Today, millions of items are covered with the symbol.
Of course peace doesn't sit well with everyone. The symbol was banned in some parts of the United States during the '60s, and pro-Vietnam War forces called it the "the footprint of the great American chicken."
Nonetheless, Vietnam War hawks ultimately lost to the forces of peace. The movement had gained power, and "Peace on Earth" was making the jump from greeting cards to reality. Still, although history may offer us the wisdom to see the futility of war, even now, in 2006, as Iraq proves, we don't always want to open our eyes.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n fact, that's the latest mission of the American Friends Service Committee, the group Albert Bigelow belonged to and another of George Fox's descendents -- and it follows in the anti-war art tradition set by Goya all those years ago. Their "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit has made more than 70 stops in American cities since 2004. They display a pair of empty boots for every American killed in Iraq. Sadly, the display keeps getting bigger.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & f we open our eyes, we can know what George Fox felt revealed to him by God, or what Goya learned when he saw his countrymen ground to carnage, or what Albert Bigelow felt compelled to do after he saw the disfigured face of the atomic era. It's a lot of human experience to boil down to a single icon, but Gerald Holtom did it pretty well.
- Ted S. McGregor Jr.
Surrendering to the Clouds
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & grew up in New England, home of Currier and Ives lithographs and Norman Rockwell illustrations, a place that is a stand-in for America's nostalgic, simpler past. Even today, Christmas cards feature images of a snug home huddling amid a grove of snow-covered trees, with a horse-drawn sleigh delivering the bundled-up family safely home as the early winter darkness approaches. Or maybe the sleigh slips down a snowy lane past a white-steepled church with a quaint village square over the next rolling hill. In these peaceful, romantic pictures, there are never any factories or Wal-Marts, and no one drives a car. It's a perfect world, where families are together, there's never any stress and everyone is happy.
Of course, that world never existed. But it's an icon of the holidays.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's hard to compete with a myth. For as long as I can remember, I have always felt a touch of disappointment around Christmas. I think it's because the reality of the day so often failed to meet the expectations created by all those perfect pictures.
The Christmases of my early childhood were events to remember. The only problem is that I don't remember them -- not really. My recollections come from photographs. Black-and-white or fading color images show festive family occasions complete with frilly party dresses, piles of presents and lots of company. My hazy memories confirm this view, although I don't know if either the memories or the photographs can be trusted.
Despite the evident joy, Christmas always seemed to be tinged with a touch of the tragic. When I was 5, my young aunt died two days before Christmas. I was too young to understand the finality of death, but I knew my mom and grandmother were sadder than I'd ever seen them. I knew that no one would let me listen to the Nat King Cole Christmas album that had been playing when they received the news, even though the album was -- unaccountably -- one of my favorites that year. (I was in my teens before I surreptitiously pulled the album out and listened to it again. I still have it.) No one came to visit that year on Christmas, and the adults in my household were even more subdued than usual.
Five years later, my grandmother -- who lived with us -- died in December. Again, the period of mourning overlapped with Christmas. Again, no one came to visit.
In the following years, Christmas seemed much too quiet. Instead of a house full of visiting relatives, it was just Mom and Dad and me. Since all of our earlier traditions had revolved around other people, we had nothing to fall back on. Christmas became a day much like any ordinary Sunday -- with the addition of gifts. I had no words at that time to express what I was feeling. All I felt was a void. Surely there had to be more to Christmas than this.
As a young adult, I dove headlong into the stereotypical New England Christmas and did everything I could to bring it to life. I bought bigger and better gifts and wrapped them in color-coordinated paper with matching handmade bows. I fixed fancy holiday breakfasts for my parents; I programmed the Christmas music to fit with our gift-opening schedule. I waited for that feeling of joy and contentment to appear.
But it didn't. My dad read the newspaper, then turned on the television as soon as the first football game began -- even if my Christmas music was still playing. He really didn't care for my brunch fare, either, although he'd eat it as long as there was plenty of meat involved. Mom enjoyed the breakfasts but paid no attention to the music as she puttered through the same morning routine she followed every other day. Eventually, I gave up.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & ow I find that my favorite Christmas music holds a note of melancholy. I treasure that sense of the bittersweet. I've learned that the outside trappings of the holiday are not what make the day special. I've been lucky enough to make my own family of friends, to expand my circle beyond my kin -- without leaving them behind.
I find peace at the holidays in the most unexpected places now. It's a paradox: When I have no expectations for joy at the holidays, then I know I will find joy. Santa will not deliver happiness in my stocking, but if I surrender my need for control, then I will be awake to the possibilities for delight all around me.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & ven though I don't live in New England any more, it's still the setting for one of my favorite Christmas memories. I was in my 20s, spending Christmas Day with Mom and Dad as usual. The day was unseasonably mild and sunny; the air felt more like spring than December. As the usual wave of disappointment washed over me, I decided to get out the house. I got in my car and drove a half hour to my favorite beach: Plum Island, in Newburyport, Mass.
Plum Island is a spit about five miles long and maybe a half mile wide, with sandy beaches all along the east side and salt marsh on the west. Much of the island comprises the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, and it connects to the mainland by a short two-lane causeway -- not exactly a Currier and Ives setting, but reminiscent of summer fun.
The day was warm enough for open windows in the car, and the sunshine cheered me. As I drove over the causeway to the island, a thick bank of coastal fog rolled in, cutting visibility to a hundred yards or so. Again, I felt the disappointment rising: If I couldn't have snow, then I wanted to walk on the beach in the sunshine, damn it!
I stepped out of the car and into a cloak of white. The pale green sea grass lining the path to the beach glowed in the low light. The roar of the sea grew louder; the fog dampened all other sounds, but the ocean thrummed as a constant, deep drone. I crested the top of the dune, and the path led downward, across the sand, disappearing into the white. Now the noise was multilayered: the bass drone, a higher shimmer above it, and the percussive crash of each wave on the shore. I smelled the ocean and walked straight toward it, seeing nothing.
Finally, about 15 feet from the foaming edge of the incoming tide, I glimpsed the movement of water. I felt the drone in my feet through the packed, wet sand, and the pounding of each wave as a visceral sensation.
I turned and walked parallel to the water, immersed in the fog that linked sky to earth, ocean to sand. The opaque whiteness swirled, opening into translucence and closing behind me as I passed through. I saw nothing ahead of me, but I kept walking; nothing behind me, but I knew I could return. I heard nothing but the sea and my own breathing. My feet touched the earth as I floated in the clouds. I felt connection. Gratitude.
-ANN M. COLFORD
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ome of you may not recall the soul shake, but I spent considerable time in college trying to master it. I recollect the exuberant thumb-up, palm-to-palm, slide-into-a-traditional-shake and hooking of fingers favored by certain black activist-types of my acquaintance in the 1970s. What I can't quite remember is whether this test of manual dexterity ended with fist-bumps or hand-slaps. (The precise number and order of bump-slaps varied by individual. Mystifying.)
Either way, the soul shake contorted both my fingers and my sense of etiquette. If I didn't get the routine of finger-contortions down, would I be revealed for all to see as an Orange County Republican? Could two white guys do the soul-shake, or would that be regarded as effrontery? (I tried it on the basketball team. I looked stupid.)
The soul shake politicized a simple act of greeting, problematizing it as more than just a simple gesture, because, as our raised consciousnesses had informed us all, no meeting was devoid of political implications -- certainly not any meeting on a privileged college campus between men whose skins happened to be black and white. The soul shake, designed as a symbol of amity, nevertheless fostered its own animosities and resentments. Why can't this man shake hands like the rest of us? Why does that man fail to see the struggle in which we are engaged?
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ll of which is a roundabout way of introducing the political overtones of another 1970s greeting and farewell, the peace sign. "Peace" we would say to each other, tucking our unruly hair behind our headbands, though we actually had trendiness on our minds a lot more than any anti-war activism. (I actually knew adults in the '60s who interpreted the peace sign as a quaint throwback to Winston Churchill's V for Victory sign, as if every time we used it, we were actually agitating for victory in Vietnam. Fighting over there, we were informed, was the only way to rid the world of bad guys.)
"Peace." Even in our narrow-horizon teenage minds, obsessed with fitting in, we knew that flashing two outstretched fingers was a lot more than just a cool greeting. It connoted an entire political outlook: anti-war, certainly, but also pro-ecology, anti-consumerism, pro-women's lib, anti-fuzz, pro-dope smoking. Long hair and beads in your doorway constituted a political statement, sure -- but then so did crew cuts and narrow ties.
My parents' generation, frightened by the privations of the Depression and a world war, always feared that their money might run out: literal impoverishment. They matured in post-war prosperity but still cut their coupons and kept close accounts. (Me, I can't balance my checkbook.)
As boomers acquired their careers and condos, however, "peace" took on a new meaning. Technology, hailed as a time-saver, instead multiplied and intensified all the demands on our time. The anti-war movement of the '70s has become the anti-stress movement of whatever-the-hell-it-is decade we're in now. We're time-impoverished.
There's hope, though, because the cures seem comparable. When money's tight, you actively seek out ways to scrimp and save. It's the same with time poverty: While it takes some planning, all you have to do is list what makes your life worthwhile, then shovel away all the channel-flipping and fussing around the house. Discovering spare time: It's what finding a nickel in the street was to my grandfather. Storing up time for what you love most: It's the pleasure my dad took in his savings accounts.
What does "peace" mean to me? Freedom from desire, sure. Complete self-knowledge, the unity of humankind, an end to suffering -- all the stuff we'll never find this side of heaven.
But I'll settle for a lesser goal: Peace from the idle chatter of the Cell Phone Clones, certainly. Peace from the time-wasters. Peace from the things that just don't matter anymore.
My concept of peace, you see, has changed. These days, when I stick my two fingers out, it's not so much because I'm yearning for my political ideals. I'm just trying to snag some free time.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t used to snow harder around here and it used to get colder. It used to drift feet. It used to get so cold the water vapor wouldn't have time to crystallize into snowflakes. Instead it flash froze into little granules, which would fall to earth without ceremony. It used to snow so hard these little granules would layer upon each other until they'd form an unvarying and very nearly flat plain of chest-high snow that was almost useless to an 8- or 9- or 10-year-old like me. It was too cold to be packed into snowballs or rolled to make fort walls and not slippery enough -- for some reason that still completely baffles me -- to take our sleds anywhere near the murderous speeds my friends and I required. But still, for the first day it was beautiful. A blessing.
That kind of cold, granular snow meant freedom. On nights when it got that cold and snowed that hard, the wind used to pick the small, light grains up and send them sailing. For much of the quarter-mile from my house to the main county road, snow would blow in from the north, whipped south across our neighbor's expansive grazing field until it hung up in the brush and tight dog-hair pine thickets that lined the northern end of our property. The wind blew so hard that it would keep the field almost snowless, piling it up the only place it could, against those thickets. Less than 30 feet from the trees would sometimes be bare ground, an entire field's worth of snow creating a feet-deep half-pipe directly on top of the gravel drive that connected us to the county road.
So though we couldn't pack it or pile it or sled on it, the snow was so small and dense that we (not even the grown-ups with their coveralls and farm equipment and harsh words about not getting our young clumsy limbs tangled in the tractor axles) sure as hell couldn't plow it. Cold snow meant freedom. The possibility of freedom would wind us up tight on nights when the television would broadcast storm warnings and wind-chill advisories -- noting gravely that the jet stream had made a sharp right turn at Alberta and headed straight for us. Sometimes it was hard to breathe.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & nowdrift days were stolen time -- even then, I realized it. I'd get impatient with my over-fussy mother as she spent half the morning hand-wringing over the thought of me facing the cold and the other half fortifying me with layers (which left me gawkier and more feeble than normal) and pre-emptive cocoa, but the anticipation made the splendor of what I was missing build. Under rule of that tyrant, the outdoors became like Canaan. When I finally had my freedom, I'd spend the first few hours just drinking it in. I'd stare out over the new snowfall with a somberness about me that was strange for a child my age. An adult presiding over the scene (as my mother no doubt was, ever unable to cut the umbilical cord) would have assumed I was a pensive, thoughtful child, and that was part of it. At those moments, though, I was really just trying to figure out what unbroken expanse of virgin snow to despoil first.
That's not to say there wasn't calm in ruining things, though. Jumping, diving, testing the snow's ability to hold my frame was a kind of play therapy for the things that preoccupied me (tormentors, tetherball, girls -- always something recess-related). I'd act out my most bestial revenge fantasies in that snow, achieving a degree of closure. I was a ponderous kid, and spent a lot of time in thought about the way I interacted with my peers, the way I linked up so well with my few friends and so poorly with the majority of others. That always made me a little sad, but then I'd merely imagine subjugating the others.
Inevitably, I'd bump into one of my far-flung neighbors -- to avoid some over-eager farmer mistaking me for a white-tail, my mother festooned me in hunter's orange, like some kind of kid beacon -- but the snow sucked, so after a bit of idle chat we'd part ways. Depending on which neighbor it was, I knew he'd be tromping off to either play some Gradius or to secretly watch naked people strut around the television. That, of course, gave me more fodder for my kabuki musings, embarrassed that my Coleco Vision was hopelessly pass & eacute; against Tom's Nintendo, or, alternately baffled (late bloomer that I was) at Jay's interest in pornography.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & epending on the weather patterns, the cold snow would last a week or a few days or even less. Ideally, it would barely last the night. Cold snow was good for collecting one's thoughts, but what good was collecting one's thoughts? What began as calmness became, in mere hours, the most debilitating cabin fever. I'd grouse at my mom just to get a reaction, wail on my little brother just to watch him squirm, force either or both to play games I hated just so I could get fed up 20 minutes in. I understood very little at that time about war, but I certainly understood why humans did so much of it. Peace was hell.
Obviously though, all this familial pestering was par for the course. Stir-craziness this severe required uncommon outlets. Luckily, whether it was after a week or only several hours, the air would always warm and the snow would inevitably soften, making it pack-able. And build-able. And sled-able.
There'd be no dallying on such days. We'd meet at Tom's house, his yard the perfect square pitch for our snowball fights, his driveway the perfect long, winding hill for sled wars (and his Nintendo just yards away). There was a routine. We'd set about building fortifications, then we'd begin to stockpile snowballs. I was usually stuck with my little brother, Shane. Because he was four years younger and clueless in the ways of combat, no one wanted to team up with him, so he was unavoidably left to me. That was all right, to a point, because my delusions of glory tended to run away with my common sense.
While making ice balls, I'd fantasize about how sweet my 2-on-1 victory would be. (I counted my brother merely as diversionary cannon fodder.) Then, of course, we'd get out-flanked, pummeled, and scattered like so many Britons caught unawares by the barbarous Zulu. Which left no choice but to forego projectiles altogether, in favor of hand-to-hand combat. I'd lose at that, too, obviously, the unfairness of which would leave me sulking. The line between sulking and the most intense revenge lust, though, was easily crossed. Soon I'd suggest sled wars.
Basically a no-holds-barred, mano-a-mano race down Tom's steep driveway, sled wars still rank, I'm sure, among the more dangerous things I've ever done. They also rank (inauspicious as this sounds) as one of the things I was best at. It was on that sled wars racetrack, not on the baseball diamond or basketball court, that I think I developed my appalling competitive streak. Normal sports each required their own bizarre skill set, but all you needed to be a sled wars champion was the ability to keep your balance, along with acute ruthlessness and a seething desire for vengeance.
I took my fair share of lumps, but my size was just as much an asset there as it was a liability almost everywhere else. I put Tom's lights out once, manhandling him headlong into one of the old battlements, by then frozen solid. When he came to, there wasn't any discussion over who was the victor, but neither was there much desire for a rematch. Years later, a hard-fought race ended with me running over Shane's face with the business end of a ski sled. Those events, and the litany of others like them, would instantly cure my bloodlust and send me frantically trying to patch up relations with whomever I'd nearly killed.
I'd make the trip home those nights panicked at the thoughtlessness I was capable of -- quite honestly thinking the worst of myself -- and thankful that, with each degree of warmth, this pristine, maddening stillness would end.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & 'm reevaluating my relationship with Christmas. For years, the thought of the approaching holiday season has brought a shudder and an involuntary "oh no, not again." But in my middle-aged search for the meaning of life, I've learned I can change that.
As a child, I loved Christmas. I still remember my heart pounding as gift-opening time approached, the joy of getting the present that was at the top of my wish list, the fun of getting together with grandpas and grandmas, aunts, uncles and cousins. I even remember playing my guitar and serving as an altar boy during Christmas Eve mass. Good memories all.
But as I got older, things changed.
The holiday that purports to celebrate the birth of the "Prince of Peace" felt like anything but a peaceful celebration. Shopping became a chore. (What do you get for family members who have everything?) I felt assaulted by advertisements that urge us to buy the "hot" gift of the season. I learned to hate the same 20 holiday songs I heard all the time. (Even "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" can get old.)
Yes, there are magical things about Christmas, most of them involving wide-eyed, smiling children. I've been blessed that my family get-togethers are nearly always full of laughter and good conversation, rather than drunken arguments.
But, in the main, the modern-day version of Christmas became something I'd rather do without. It's been awhile since I've been infected (probably the wrong verb, eh?) with the "Christmas spirit."
I can't say I'm there yet. I hope things will be different this year.
I'm trying to adopt my wife's mantra: go with the flow. That means learning to accept Christmas as it really is in the United States, as a mostly commercial, rather than religious, holiday. It means I can choose not to put myself in debt for the next six months. It means I can forgive myself for giving gift cards and certificates, rather than killing myself looking for the perfect present. My family will love me anyway.
I'm trying to be better prepared. That means doing my homework before I go shopping so that I spend a minimum amount of stressful time in crowded stores. Or it means that I change my mindset, to accept that shopping is a part of the season and that I can actually smile and enjoy it, rather than grit my teeth and just try to get through it.
I'm trying to rediscover the spiritual side of the holiday season. I'm not yet ready to go back to midnight mass, but I'm trying to open myself to the things that once made the holiday season special. My favorite thing is to sit in a dark, quiet room and watch the lights on the Christmas tree blink. It's as close to a religious experience as I get these days.
It's not that doing these things will give me the same sort of Christmas rush that I experienced as a kid. I don't know that I want that. But I think they'll help reduce the stress of the season and bring back some of the peace I think the holiday season should be about.
I'm inspired by those who really have what I consider to be the "Christmas spirit," those who use it as an opportunity to make someone else's life better, either through writing a check or volunteering their time doing work that helps someone else.
I'm sure my wife and I will write a check or two as well. It will be our small contribution to help someone less fortunate than we are. I'm hoping it will remind me why many people consider this to be "the most wonderful time of the year."
Doug Nadvornick is news director for Spokane Public Radio.
Peace Out (and About)
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & e're not even going to try to keep up with Santa's appearances. That old dude gets around faster than a mere weekly newspaper can track. We hear he likes hanging out at shopping malls, street corners and in dark, cookie-littered living rooms, however. After that, you're on your own.
Undoubtedly, he'll pop up at a few of the events listed here. Consider joining him, if only to enjoy the ancient and over-the-top spectacle of a civilization celebrating during the coldest, darkest time of the year. Artists of all stripes will be revealing the fruits of their fall labors. Organizers around the region will finally organize the celebrations you've been waiting for. Stores and merchants will be happy to exchange your money for something more festive. Even in the midst of this hectic and harsh season, you'll have hundreds of chances to find happiness. Because when it's celebration time, sometimes the most peaceful thing to do is enjoy yourself.
-- MARTY DEMAREST
THE WHOLE HOLIDAY
SPOKANE'S COMMUNITY TREE
Two days after Thanksgiving, free horse-drawn carriage rides, complimentary hot chocolate and strolling carolers help set the tone for Spokane's Christmas tree lighting. Fireworks and live music follow. (What, no birthday cake for the 30 year-old tree?) Saturday, Nov. 25. Beginning at 4:30 pm. Free. The corner of Spokane Falls Boulevard and Wall Street, Spokane. (625-6740)
SANDPOINT CHRISTMAS TREE
Sandpoint throws its tree-lighting party the day after Thanksgiving. Cider is the beverage of choice, with cookies to attract Santa Claus (and Mayor Ray Miller). Live music will be provided in the traditional holiday forms of carolers and choirs. Friday, Nov. 24. 5:30 pm. Free. Jeff Jones Town Square, Sandpoint, Idaho. (208-255-1876)
CAMPBELL HOUSE HOLIDAYS
How did people stay warm long ago? Vintage winter clothing makes an appropriate seasonal appearance at the MAC's Campbell House in time for the annual holiday celebration. The historical d & eacute;cor and activities are enhanced by readings of The Night Before Christmas, including one at the ultra-real time: Christmas Eve. Nov. 24-Dec. 24. See web site for times and admission costs. MAC, 2316 W. First Ave. northwestmuseum.org (363-5330)
MAIN STREET CHRISTMAS
If having the holidays hit you in the middle of the city sounds like too much, leave. Go to Dayton, where the town's holiday celebration may renew your faith in the holidays (not to mention the people of the Inland Northwest). Hayrides and barrel-tastings, a performance of Oliver at the Liberty Theater and fireworks on Friday night round out the fun. Nov. 24-25. Free. Downtown Dayton. (800-882-6299)
St. Nicolas kicks it off in Leavenworth for the next few weekends, arriving in darkness at the town gazebo each Friday. His posse (Santa and Father Christmas) join him at noon on Saturdays, however, leading up to the singing of "Silent Night" and the lighting of the entire Bavarian village. Chestnuts will be roasted. Fridays through Sundays, Dec. 1-3, 8-10, 15-17. Free. Leavenworth. (509-548-5807)
The town of Harrison, Idaho, will be decked with fires to cut through the cold, and the Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring hot beverages and One Shot's is offering wine tastes. Carolers will be strolling around town, and Bratwurst and barbeque (how's that for a holiday variation?) will be served in the park beginning at noon. Dec. 1. Free. Harrison, Idaho (208-689-3669)
Take away Tchaikovsky's music, and you're left with a lively tale of a fighting kitchen appliance and the little girl who loved him. Their adventure is presented by Spokane Children's Theater as a musical, so if you get confused, someone will sing you what's going on. Nov. 24 at 4 pm, Nov. 25 at 1pm, Dec. 2 and 9 at 1 pm and 4 pm, Dec. 10 at 7 pm, Dec. 16 at 10 am, 1 pm and 4 pm. Tickets: $8; $6 children 17 and younger. Civic Theatre, 1020 N. Howard St. (328-4886)
DISNEY ON ICE
Executing choreography on a slick surface while balancing on two thin blades of metal is something only a truly incredible person would attempt. Enter Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, on vacation at Disneyland when a reason arises to round up the whole Disney crew and save the world while skating. Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at 7:30 pm, Dec. 2 at 11:30 am, 3:30 pm and 7:30 pm, Dec. 3 at 1 pm and 5 pm. Tickets: $15-$21, $10 opening night. Spokane Arena, 720 W. Mallon Ave. (325-SEAT)
HOLIDAY MAGIC SHOW
The holidays aren't exactly known for making things disappear, aside from copious amounts of cash. But David Martin's vanishings, along with the usual magical levitations, transportations and diversions bring another level of enchantment to the season. Dec. 19-21. Tickets: $5-$10. Northern Quest Casino, 100 Hayford Road, Airway Heights, Wash. (325-SEAT)
It's a tradition for a reason. Not only does The Nutcracker make an excellent introduction to ballet (it's partially about candy -- who doesn't love that?), but the familiar music is still as whimsical and delightful as the day it was written. Alberta Ballet, Ballet British Columbia and the Spokane Symphony continue the tradition. Dec. 8 at 7:30 pm, Dec. 9 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm, and Dec. 10 at 2 pm. Tickets: $17-$35; $14, children 12 and younger. INB Performing Arts Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. (624-1200)
SANTA GOT STUCK IN THE CHIMNEY
It's a book, but anyone who's ever heard comedic children's poet Kenn Nesbitt read aloud before will know that it's as good as theater. Nesbitt will be reading from his book of holiday poems, but he'll probably include a few new surprises for fans. Nov. 30 at 7:30 pm. Auntie's. 402 W. Main. Spokane. (838-0206)
I THOUGHT I SAW MOMMY
KILLING SANTA CLAUS
A four-course dinner theater, with performances of I Thought I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus, will be held on Saturdays through Dec. 16. Tickets: $35, must preregister. Song Bird Theatre, 315 N. Fourth St., Coeur d'Alene (208-664-3672)
A CHRISTMAS MEMORY
Truman Capote wrote this story about the "fruitcake weather" from his childhood. With his characteristic breezy nostalgia, Capote reminisces about Christmas rituals past. Robert Shampain performs it as a one-man play. Dec. 14-15 at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $10; $8 seniors and students; available at the door. First Lutheran Church, 526 S. Olive St., Sandpoint, Idaho.
Sandpoint's chance to see Tchaikovsky's classic is courtesy of Ballet Idaho, and the performance tends to sell out. Dancers from the Sandpoint region will tell the story of a holiday party that gets surreal. Nov. 28 at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $22; $18, members; $9, youth 18 and younger. Panida Theater, 300 N. First Ave., Sandpoint, Idaho (208-263-9191)
There are pre-fabricated gifts that you can give (you know who you are), or there are one-of-a-kind objects that do good in the world. The choice is yours, but Spokane Art School aims to make the choice easier at its annual holiday gift show, featuring works from dozens of regional artists. Preview party Nov. 24, 5-9 pm. Admission: $15. Free viewing and shopping, Nov. 25-Dec. 23. Spokane Art School, 920 N. Howard St., Spokane. (328-0900)
FESTIVAL OF TREES
The Kinderhaven in Sandpoint is a shelter for abused and troubled children, offering guidance and sanctuary in the woods of northern Idaho. This year, the organization's annual fundraiser will take place beginning Dec. 1 with a balloon chase from the Great Northern Railroad at noon, followed by a silent auction and raffle. Tickets are $25 and include lunch. The next day, the auction for the trees takes place out loud at the Sandpoint Airport hangar at 6 pm. Dec. 2. Tickets: $40. Sandpoint Airport, Sandpoint, Idaho. (208-263-4429)
There are benefits -- the kind you dress up for in fancy clothes -- and there are longer-lasting benefits. If catching some holiday karma the old-fashioned way is more your style, you can give the (gently used) shirt off your back, and any new shoes, pants, white socks and shirts you might have. Donations will be accepted Nov. 27 from noon-4 pm Homeless Resource Center, 520 S. Walnut St. (838-4651)
CANDLELIGHT BENEFIT CONCERT
The Celtic Nots and the St. Ann's Choir present their annual Candlelight Christmas Concert to benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank and the East Central Neighborhood Sunday Lunch Program. Sunday, Dec. 17 at 4 pm. Admission: by donation -- bring along a non-perishable food item and something to throw in the Santa hat. St. Ann's Catholic Church, 2120 E. First Ave. (535-3031)
CHRISTMAS CANDLELIGHT CONCERT
Voices rising together in the dim spaces of a church evoke a spirit of serenity and grandeur during what can often be a hectic, petty season. Tranquility arrives courtesy of Gonzaga University Choir & amp; Women's Ensemble's candlelight concert. Dec. 1 and 2, 8 pm. Advance tickets: $10, adults; $7, seniors and students; $12 at the door. St. Aloysius Church, Boone and Astor St. (325-SEAT)
A GOSPEL-JAZZ CHRISTMAS
For many people, the holidays are all about coming together. The blend of cultures extends to the arts as well, with gospel music, jazz music and plenty of soul coming together when Elisha Mitchell and Spokane-area gospel artists present a fusion concert. Dec. 2 at 2:45 pm and 7 pm. Tickets: $10-$15; $7.50, students and seniors; free, children 5 and younger. The Service Station, 9315 N. Nevada St. (466-1696)
SPOKANE YOUTH ORCHESTRA
More than most artists, musicians spend hours locked away alone, practicing, working on the music that will transport listeners. The Spokane Youth Orchestra will reveal the efforts of the community's next generation of musicians when they join the Spokane Area Children's Chorus for a cathedral concert. Dec. 3 at 4 and 7 pm. Free. St. John's Cathedral, 127 E. 12th Ave. (448-4446)
Eating together, like listening to a concert, is a way to share a single experience and enjoy it socially. The Northwoods Chorale offers choral music lovers a chance to do both at their dinner concert. Dec. 1-2, Dec. 5 and Dec. 8-9. Shows begin at 6 pm each night. Tickets: $20; $12 for show only; $10 show only for seniors, students and children. Circle Moon Theater, 3645 Hwy. 211, Sacheen Lake, Wash. (208-437-0179)
A WING-DING FOR BING
Spokane's most lavish stage gets renamed with a festival celebrating the art of one of the city's most lavish artist: Bing Crosby. Be part of the sign-changing event, listen to music and memories from Bing's wife, and catch a performance by "Big Bing Theory," a Gonzaga University co-ed a cappella group. Dec. 8. Films begin at noon, free. The sign is unveiled at 7 pm, followed by Kathryn Crosby's performance. Tickets: $25-$100. The soon-to-be-former Met Theater, 901 W. Sprague. (227-7638 or 325-SEAT)
CHRISTMAS CONTRA DANCE
The Spokane Folklore Society gets into the holiday spirit at their Christmas Dance. Penn Fix will be calling and Out of the Wood will be playing. Dec. 9, 8-11 pm. Cost: Bring an ornament to decorate the tree. The Women's Club, 1428 W. 9th Ave. (747-2640)
The lights of the holidays reflect better in burnished metal, and this time the Clarion ensemble is joined by special guests Michael Moon Bear, world percussionist, and Heather Peterson, soprano. Thursday-Friday, Dec. 21-22 at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $15; $10, seniors and students. Thursday's show will be at Opportunity Presbyterian Church, 202 N. Pines Rd. Friday's show will be at First Presbyterian Church, 318 N. Cedar St. (489-4633)
"Come Home to the Sounds & amp; Spirit of Christmas" is the full title of the Northwest Sacred Music Chorale's holiday concert. What a homecoming it is, with guitarist Paul Grove and baritone Max Mendez joining the Chorale for holiday music, along with some Sweet Adelines and a harp. Dec. 20, 5:30 and 8 pm. Tickets: $5. First Presbyterian Church, 521 E. Lakeside Ave., Coeur d'Alene. (208-772-3491)
KPBX KIDS' CONCERT
You know the lyrics to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," no matter how embarrassing it is to admit. Join plenty of kids with no self-consciousness in singing that and other familiar holiday songs at the KPBX Kids' Concert featuring Simmons, Parman and Sackett. Saturday, Dec. 16, 1-2 pm. Free. Auntie's, 402 W. Main Ave. (328-5729)
If you don't have a chimney, perhaps you don't have to worry. But just to be on the safe side, Auntie's is hosting a stocking-making morning, and if participants are good, they just might find it stuffed before Christmas. Nov 25 at 11 am. Free. Auntie's Bookstore, 402 W. Main, Spokane. (838-0206)
Beneath the pavilion at the center of Spokane, an expanse of ice is just calling you to slip and fall on it. It just wouldn't be the holidays without that, now would it? Hum "Linus and Lucy" and you'll feel better. $4.25 adults and teens, $3.25 children, seniors and military. Riverfront Park's Ice Palace, Spokane. www.spokaneriverfrontpark.com (625-6687)
Calendar by Marty Demarest,
Mick Lloyd-Owen and April Reiter.
CHRISTMAS TREE ELEGANCE
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & Y & lt;/span & ou have your tree, right? A nice gold and silver affair with hundreds of lights, right? Wouldn't it be nice if you could just walk downtown, wander into the Davenport Hotel, plunk down a dollar, and later discover that you've just won yourself a lavish Christmas tree laden with thousands of dollars of prize trimmings? That's the idea behind this annual fundraiser for the Spokane Symphony -- one of the year's most elegant.
The official tree lighting ceremony takes place on the mezzanine of the Davenport Hotel on Nov. 24 at 5 pm, and the dozen decorated trees will remain on display through Dec. 2 from 10 am to 9 pm. Viewing them is free, as is soaking up the Davenport's ambience.
Several pricier angles round out the event, however, if you're in a generously festive mood. An Evening with Eckart and Friends on Nov. 26 at 6 pm offers a chance to casually peruse the trees with the Symphony's music director for the mere price of a $10 admission. A perhaps more swinging time will be had on Nov. 29 when Night Bloomin' Jazzmen perform from 7-10 pm.
Various holiday luncheons and style shows will also join the festivities, culminating in the Gala Dance Dinner on Dec. 2, from 6 pm-midnight. Tickets for that event are $125, but raffle tickets are just $1. The Davenport Hotel, 10 S. Post St. (458-TREE)
-- MARTY DEMAREST
COEUR D'ALENE HOLIDAY LIGHT SHOW
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s if having a giant lake to sail around on while looking at rich people's Christmas lights wasn't enough, Coeur d'Alene has to top it with the world's tallest living Christmas tree. At 161 feet tall, the tree is probably visible from Spokane after it's lit. (Neener neener neener.)
Coeur d'Alene is a town that loves festivals, so someone won't just be sticking a plug in an outlet and hoping all the bulbs work. The evening kicks off with a parade marching through downtown at 5 pm, rallying weary consumers around the gigantic tree. At 6 pm, the more than 30,000 LED lights will be illuminated, and the tree will officially be lighted.
How do they follow that in Coeur d'Alene? They light fireworks. Then, dozens of the wealthiest individuals in the Inland Northwest plug in their Christmas lights. All of this is free, and if you look into the waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene, the visuals will be doubled at no extra charge.
The world's tallest living Christmas tree will be lit up on Nov. 24 at 6 pm. Parade begins at 5 pm. Free. Downtown Coeur d'Alene. Lake cruises to see the holiday lights start Nov. 24, too. (800-688-5253)
-- MARTY DEMAREST
U-cut CHRISTMAS TREES
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & xperience much more than just picking out a tree. Each of the farms below provides a winter wonderland experience, complete with hot cocoa, sleigh rides and genuine evergreen needles up your nose.
CAMDEN RANCH CHRISTMAS TREES Dash through the snow in a one-tractor sleigh to find the perfect tree, then enjoy hot cider or coffee with Santa himself. 1521 Williams Rd., Elk, Wash. www.camdenranch.com (292-2543)
FOREVER GREEN TREE FARM This is where family traditions are made as you nibble holiday treats and peruse the handmade treasures inside the 1,500-square-foot holiday shop. Or maybe it's the horse-drawn hay rides. 500 Forever Green Dr., St. Maries, Idaho. (208-245-2440)
SUNWEST FARMS U-CUT Relax -- the trees aren't going anywhere. Throw off the city-life rush with a rousing snow fight, a leisurely hayride or a long sit by the bonfire. 21113 W. Sunwest Ave., Medical Lake, Wash. (299-5300)
DIETZ U-CUT After you fell your tree and enjoy free hot cocoa at the Dietz farm, take a short trip down a country lane for a hayride, a dessert and good old-fashioned hospitality at one of the many Green Bluff family farms. 17714 N. Day-Mount Spokane Rd. Green Bluff, Wash. (238-6975)