The presents are opened, the toys have all been played with at least once, much food has been consumed, and a large tree with lights still sits in the living room, although it is now beginning to dry out a bit and drop the needles that will still be piercing the flesh of an unsuspecting foot next August. Christmas has come, and gone.
We had a lovely time this year. We attended a church service on Christmas Eve, although we had to go to the early service instead of the late one; then we went out for our traditional drive to observe Christmas lights on people's houses culminating in a drive through Lights On the Lake, an amazing drive-through Christmas light display on the shores of Onondaga Lake (the lake at one end of which Syracuse is located). As we drove through Lights On The Lake, we listened to our local classical station's broadcast of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, a gorgeous concert of sacred music involving a number of St. Olaf College musical ensembles. (This brought back a flood of memories of my own college experiences with our own annual Christmas musical pageant. Remember those, Sean?)
We marked Christmas morning by making waffles and sausage for breakfast -- one of our favorite meals, but one which we don't indulge in often because, well, it's not that healthy. (I tend to view waffles as a delivery-mechanism for large quantities of Mrs. Butterworth's.) Then, after we'd eaten our fill -- we would not eat again until dinnertime, we were so full -- it was off to the tree to open presents, with the observation that this is probably the last Christmas for a number of years into the future that we will be able to sleep in. I expect our daughter next year to start the business of waking us up slightly before sunrise in order to open everything.
The best gift I received was a VHS copy of the Extended Version of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, which I had no idea was even released on VHS (and in widescreen, to boot). Circumstances have conspired in such a way as to keep us behind the DVD revolution, but now I will get to see the four-hour version of the film at long long last, which means that a certain friend of mine will have one less thing to pester me about every time I encounter him online. (You know who you are....) Something of a tradition of mine is that I give my wife a new book, which she invariably loves and ends up losing a bit of sleep because she reads the book before going to sleep at night and I always manage to pick out one of those "Well, just one more chapter" types of books. This year it's Ken Follett's new one, Hornet Flight.
But the best thing was watching our daughter open her gifts. I've noticed that there are two kinds of people in the world: the ones who look at the toys kids have today and say, "Man, the toys we had in my day are sure better than this crap!" and the ones who look on today's toys and think, "Man, I wish I'd had these toys, because mine were sure crap!" I tend to fall in the latter camp, although I don't think my toys were lousy. It's just that these are so cool...expecially the LeapPad. This is just totally nifty, and it's already getting us more quiet time as she plays with it in her room. Hooray and Huzzah for the LeapPad!!
There were also the obligatory new videos: Monsters Inc. (which we've already seen), Ice Age (which we haven't), and a Veggie Tales video. We've become pretty big fans of Veggie Tales, even if the tomato-guy by his look reminds me ever-so-slightly of Cartman from South Park.
Dinner, for those still reading this post, included ham, corn in butter sauce, garlic-and-parmesan couscous (couscous being one of the greatest foods ever invented, as far as I am concerned) and a nice Zinfandel. (Real, red Zinfandel, not the "white" Zin -- although I do like white Zin as a summertime wine, when blush wines tend to fare better.)
Setting aside the religious importance of Christmas, I love all the trappings of the holiday -- the trees, the colored lights, the ornaments, the music. It never bothers me in the slightest measure that the trees start going up in the department stores and malls in October; what bothers me more are the now-bare trees I see hauled out to the sidewalk for weekly garbage pickup on December 27. It bothers me that to such a degree we have relegated beauty -- even the simple beauty of a tree with colored lights and sparkly ornaments hung upon its branches -- to such a specific timeframe, to be complained about if it's begun too early and to be dispensed with according to a specific timetable. (Not that it should stay in the living room until March, of course. We're not the Simpsons, after all.)