Sean Lynch: Christmas ReflectionsBy
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It was my great good fortune to be born into a family which reveres Christmas. Christmas at the Lynch household was the zenith of a holiday season which began before Halloween and concluded with the advent of the New Year. In our home, the season kicked-off with the blustery sting of autumn’s breath and the taste of Trick-or-Treat candy, and finished with the ale and revelry of New Year’s Eve. But the main event was always Christmas.
As this year draws to a close, my family, like many families around the world, celebrates our unique holiday traditions. During such a time it’s only natural to reflect on Christmases past. With an invitation from the great folks at Angry Robot/Exhibit A/Strange Chemistry, I have been given an opportunity to memorialize this year’s Christmas reflections. I ask your forbearance in advance for my nostalgia.
If I described my childhood as idyllic it would not be too strong a label. I grew up in a small river town in Iowa, one of five children to working class parents. The house we owned was built during the Civil War; a two-story, red-brick mausoleum which resembled a haunted mansion, featured an eerie, crypt-like, cellar, and was the source of endless chores and renovations. The property nested on acres of wooded land, sported a tire swing, a zillion giant trees to climb, and our very own creek. It was a kid’s paradise, and in the days before VCR’s, computers, and video games there was always something exiting to do if you thrived on adventure, liked to be outdoors, were willing to indulge your imagination, and weren’t averse to skinned knees.
My summertime memories include fierce lightning storms, the cacophonous hum of cicadas, capturing fireflies, mowing lawns, delivering papers, and detasseling corn in the sweltering Midwestern heat. Independence Day I will forever associate with humidity and ravenous mosquitos.
My winter thoughts, however, are always tinged with echoes of Christmas. As a kid, the cackle of Halloween goblins would still be resonating in my ears when anticipation of the Christmas-to-come began teasing my brain. Thanksgiving was merely the midway point between Halloween and Christmas, and the yuletide season’s official start. Especially since it is not uncommon where I grew up to get the first snowfall before Halloween. By the time Thanksgiving’s turkey and stuffing was digested a blizzard may have already arrived.
Winter memories include snowball fights, snow forts, (to better prevail in snowball fights), sledding, (I lost my front teeth riding belly-down on a Western Flyer), shoveling snow, delivering papers, and tromping to school in rubber galoshes while bundled up like Neil Armstrong during his moonwalk.
The transformation of the Lynch home at Christmas time was a marvelous thing to behold. Decorating our house, and the erection of the Christmas tree, were joyous events. My parents spent their lives restoring our century-old farmstead, and at no time did the majestic old structure appear more resplendent than when decked out for Christmas. It is not an exaggeration to say that I grew up in a home which on a winter’s day resembled a Currier and Ives lithograph, just like the carol says.
My childhood Christmases were the genesis of a lifelong appreciation for all things yuletide, and have produced a wealth of recollections which sustain my spirit in this frenetic, cynical, modern world. To me, the sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday season are a source of consolation, and heighten my senses like no other time of the year. They also serve to bring me back in fond recollection to the days of my youth.
Snot icicles. Gingerbread cookies. The Grinch who Stole Christmas; the original Boris Karlof cartoon version, not the schizophrenic live-action atrocity starring Jim Carrey. Tooth-shattering hard candies. Claudine Longet’s rendition of Randy Newman’s’ haunting melody ‘Snow.’ The scent of pinecones and hickory burning in our ancient marble hearth. My mom’s honey-glazed ham, fresh from the oven. And long before Ralphie, portrayed by Peter Billingsley in the holiday classic A Christmas Story, received his Daisy Red Ryder BB gun I was unwrapping mine on a never-to-be-forgotten Christmas morning. I’ve spent a lifetime as a firearms enthusiast, operator, and trainer, and have been issued, trained with, and owned some of the most expensive and exotic weapons around; everything from an Army-issued M-16, to a police-issued Heckler and Koch submachine gun and Remington sniper rifle, to my trusty Smith & Wesson revolver and Sig Sauer pistol. But the finest and most treasured weapon it was ever my privilege to own was my lever-action Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. I must have cycled a ton of tiny copper balls through that old Daisy. I have it still.
I now reside in California, more than two thousand miles from the home of my youth. Though winter in the San Francisco Bay Area can get surprisingly chilly, it is nothing like the winters of my childhood. Yet in the years since I migrated from Iowa I’ve always tried to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in my heart, even without the snow and trappings of the holidays I experienced as a child. I’ve continued to honor the Christmas traditions I was raised with. Not surprisingly, the Christmases I’ve known as an adult have only increased my reverence for the magical holidays of my earlier years.
As a cop I endured many Christmases, as well as other holidays, on-duty. An especially memorable one was my first as a sworn officer. That Christmas Eve found me and my partner wrestling a naked, feces-covered, knife-wielding, homicidal maniac in a tenement apartment. What I remember most about that night was my partner and I walking back to the police station afterwards; none of the other cops would let us ride in their car.
I remember my first Christmas with my wife; the word ‘treasure’ doesn’t adequately do justice to that memory. And both of my children were born on the heels of Christmas; more precious gifts have never been received.
As a voracious reader, another habit I inherited from my parents, I found the Christmas season the perfect time to enjoy the solace of a good book. I consumed a lot of Christmas classics, like Dashiell Hammett’s Continental OP series, Raymond Chandler’s collection of short stories, and my favorite holiday read, Anthony Hope’s A Prisoner of Zenda, which I recently read to my own children. An entertaining book consumed in a comfortable chair is my idea of a perfect winter’s evening.
Though raised in a devoutly religious household, I am not a religious person in the traditional sense. I nonetheless appreciate the rituals of my Catholic upbringing, and the true meaning of Christmas is not lost on me. I am blessed to know and love many people who celebrate the holidays with their loved ones in different ways. I have friends who practice Celtic Polytheism, family members who follow the path of Buddha, and brothers-in-arms who light the Menorah during the Festival of Lights. Consequently, I choose to define the ‘Christmas’ season, although technically a Christian holiday, as merely a time near Winter Solstice when family, friends, and loved ones, regardless of faith, take pause to celebrate each other, give thanks, exude kindness, and revel in one another’s company. Not everybody’s idea of Christmas, to be sure, but it works for me.
Thank you for indulging me in my stroll down Memory Lane. There is one thing about my Christmas’s past and Christmas’s yet-to-come of which I’m more than certain; that I am truly a blessed fellow. I try mightily to be grateful for such gifts every day.
May you spend your Christmas, or Hanukkah, or whatever you call this magical time of year, with those you love and who love you.