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Merry Christmas Eve

These days people tend to celebrate Christmas from Black Friday until the penultimate day of January, but we’ve always preferred to more fully focus our attention on Christ’s birth over a couple of days.
In our family we always decorated the house around mid-December but only began the festivities in earnest on Christmas Eve, when we’d share a feast of pizza and open all the gifts from family and friends, and sing carols and read from the Nativity scriptures, and then pose for the family portraits that Dad’s camera-and-flash-bulb timer always took several infuriatingly long attempts to get right. On Christmas morning we’d wake up with the brothers and greedily unwrap the presents that had been brought by Santa Claus — yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus — and then enjoy the traditional feast of turkey and ham and mashed potatoes with gravy and other all-American culinary delights, followed by televised football games, but at some point we’d sing a few more carols about that long ago Oh Holy Night and reflect on those scriptures that hinted at its ineffable meaning.
Over the the past many years we’ve added a tradition of attending the Christas party that our friends Art and Joanne annually host at our friend Stan’s house on the night before Christmas Eve, which is always the most swinging soiree one can hope to be invited to here in Wichita. Stan’s place isn’t much to look at if you drive by it up in North Riverside, but if you’re invited inside it’s as cool a bachelor pad as you’ve ever seen, and every year on the night before Christmas Eve it’s jam-packed with excellent people. Between Art and Joanne and Stan they seem to know every worthwhile beatnik and hippie and punk and musician and local media celebrity and ballet dancer in town, and it’s always nice to be reminded of how many of our friends are friends with other friends of ours in this small town of more than half-a-million souls. There’s always an open bar with a voluptuous barmaid, and no one’s singing Christmas carols or reciting Nativity scripture, but an appropriate feeling of peace on Earth and good will toward man always prevails.
We’ll probably wake up late today with a slight hangover, but as always with a realization that today is Christmas Eve, and that today is one of those special days of the year. We’ll have some sort of feast with our beloved parents at their swank retirement home, then maybe a beer with some of our weird friends at a nearby favorite dive of ours, try our best to ignore what’s going on with the government and the stock markets and the rest of the world, and to take a moment to reflect on the even better next world that Christ’s birth promises.
We suggest you do the same, and have a very merry Christmas Eve.

— Bud Norman

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Christmas Eve at Mar-a-Lago

There’s a longstanding tradition that forbids American politicians from making news on Christmas, but President Donald Trump pays no heed to to even the most admirable longstanding traditions. He mostly kept to the golf course and family gatherings over the long weekend at his profitable Mar-a-Lago resort, and reportedly got a national security briefing and tended to some other presidential business, but of course he couldn’t resist a few controversial “tweets.”
Trump “tweeted” some effusive praise for the military, which does indeed deserve it, but he couldn’t help taking some undue credit for their recent successes. He also “tweeted” a “Merry Christmas” message, which American presidents have conveyed to the people long before the advent of “Twitter,” but as usual he took undue and downright blasphemous-to-our-ears credit for Christmas. For Christ’s sake — and in this case we mean that both literally and reverently — we’re quite sure the holiday would have survived without Trump.
Even on a busy Christmas Eve filled with golf and family gatherings and national security briefings, Trump still found time to criticize a high-ranking and soon-to-retire Federal Bureau of Investigation official for having a wife a who once ran for office as a Democrat, with the usual implied aspersions on the FBI in general, and that ex-FBI head honcho currently running a special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing” in particular. Perhaps it’s because he was haunted by an especially scary ghost of Christmas future, but Trump had to bring up the “Russia thing” even on Christmas Eve.
There’s never a day of the year when Trump isn’t talking about “fake news,” and even the Christmas spirit one feels on Christmas couldn’t keep him from “re-tweeting:a picture of him with a squashed bug labeled “CNN” on his show and  “tweeting” a gripe about the “fake polls” that show both him and his recently-signed tax cuts as widely unpopular. That apparently includes all the polls, as even the outlier Rasmussen Reports has his approval ratings well in the very low 40s and well under water, but we doubt Trump will convince a majority of Americans that a majority of their fellow Americans actually quite like him.
Trump didn’t take advantage of a congressional Christmas recess to fire that ex-FBI guy heading the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing,” and the economy is humming along nicely, and so far there are no mushrooms clouds on the Korean Peninsula, and we suspect Trump would be polling better if he’d lay off the “tweets,” at least on Christmas Eve.

— Bud Norman

On Texas, Christmas Eve, and What Else Matters

Our holiday travels have now taken us deep into the heart of Texas, where most of the paternal side of the family now resides, and as much as we hate to be away from God’s own Kansas it’s good to be here. The weather is warm even by heart-of-Texas standards, which will no doubt encourage all the global warming alarmists, while reassuring all those social justice warriors who worry that a “white Christmas” is somehow racist, but we’re nonetheless enjoying the warmth of family on a Christmas Eve.
The drive down unlovely and casino-clogged and incongruously up-to-date I-35 was surprisingly grueling — who knew that a jaunt through relatively tiny Temple, Texas, would be even slower than the legendarily clogged Dallas-Fort Worth area or even out-of-control Austin — but for the most part we enjoyed a respite from the even more grueling news of the day. Most of the drive was spent listening to ancient family lore and the music of Ernest “Texas Troubadour” Tubb and Jim Ed Brown and Hank Snow and other mellifluously nasal old-time honky-tonkers on the folk’s newfangled Sirius radio system, and except for a brief update from the Fox News station and a quick reading of the news after our beloved aunt somehow recalled the password for the internet wi-fi that a more tech-savvy daughter set up for her we mostly ignored all the latest political and economic developments. Given what we found on those brief looks at the news, it was probably best to stick with the old-country music.
Barring something unexpectedly catastrophic, we’ll stick with Christmas carols and old-time country music and family lore today, and we urge you to do the same. There’s still good news out there, even if you have to turn off the news to hear it.

— Bud Norman

Christmas Eve, 2014

There’s plenty of news out there, no doubt, but today we will pay it no heed. Today is Christmas Eve, and except in the unlikely event that the civil defense sirens start blaring we will not concern ourselves with the cares of the world.
Christmas Eve is better spent running the last minute chores required to host large gatherings of family and friends, and then enduring their petty squabbles and oft-told stories, but our solitary and ascetic lifestyle spares us such enviable hassles. Instead we will sleep late, enjoy our annual playing of the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s swinging “Nutcracker Suite,” maybe put on that great old Mahalia Jackson Christmas album that an old girlfriend with a knack for gift-giving once gave us, then give the old place an overdue straightening-up, and put some final obsessive meddling into a novel we’ve written which is almost ready for e-publication. At some point in the evening we’ll get together with some old friends, then cook up some steaks that have already been thoughtfully provided as an early Christmas present by some parents with a knack for gift-giving, and perhaps we’ll play that Christmas album by Brave Combo, the fabulous punk polka band from Denton, Texas, or reach into the vinyl for our family’s ancient copy of Gene Autry singing about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and  we’ll savor the once-a-year feeling of Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve was always a big event in our childhood, a time when the family ate pizza or some other non-traditional fare and played that same old Gene Autry album as well as a Mitch Miller sing-along on the hi-fi, then opened all the gifts from all the Okie relatives and all our gift-giving friends. The more extravagant gifts from Santa Claus were put off until Christmas morning, but even the folks offered a few small tokens that were almost worth the obligatory slide shows documenting our goofy-looking younger days, and we had a lot of love and laughter. This year the family is scattered from one end of the United States to the other, with us inconveniently located somewhere in the middle, Santa Claus is is busy with the younger children who have been nicer and less naughty than ourselves, and a few of the most beloved of those Okie relatives are bravely battling the most brutal of diseases, and many of the family and friends who populate our most cherished memories of Christmas Eve will celebrate in their afterlives. Still, there’s something about the number on the calendar will bring us all closer together.
At some point today we will say a prayer for our Okie relatives, who are far better people than ourselves, and for anyone else that a reader who has wandered to this page might know who is similarly afflicted, and we will give thanks that we have this day together on God’s good earth. We’ll say a prayer about all that other news, too, whatever it might be, but will prefer to consider the good news that the world celebrates tomorrow. The winter solstice passed on Sunday, shortly after the preacher at the West Douglas Church of Christ had delivered us a heartening sermon on the greatest gifts we receive in life, and we are certain the days will grow longer into summertime, and that great things will yet come, and we are resolved to be grateful and hopeful. On this Christmas Eve we wish you all good health and a happy life, and care little about anything else.

— Bud Norman