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Making a grownup Christmas list

Want to get in the Christmas spirit? Find someone ringing a bell at a Salvation Army kettle and watch the people who drop money into the pot.

It will restore your faith in the human spirit.

Some people start digging into their pockets after they see the bell ringer, while others appear to come prepared, bills or coins in hand. Either way, no one wants to make a big show of chipping in. They discreetly drop their gift into the pot with a “Merry Christmas” and a nod and quickly go on their way.

Not everyone gives, and that’s OK. For all you know, they’ve been in and out of this store several times in recent weeks and already gave. Or maybe they can’t afford to give. There’s no shame in that.

Outward affluence is no predictor of generosity. Sometimes the people who give the most have the humblest demeanor.

Children are the best. Even if they don’t stop to make a donation, they give a shy sideways glance. Secretly, they all want to jingle that bell.

God bless parents who use the kettle encounter as a teaching moment. They give their children money, usually coins, to drop in. Inevitably, the children do it coin by coin.

At one point a big, shiny pickup came to a sudden stop in front of the kettle. A man jumped out of the driver’s seat, reached into the back seat and pulled out … wait for it … his little boy. The boy looked to be about 5, and his dad carried him over with a handful of quarters to put in. “All of it?” the boy asked uncertainly. The dad nodded yes. The boy put a few in and asked again, “All of it?” Yes, all of it, the dad said. Finally the coins were deposited, the dad put the boy back into his car seat and they sped off.

Good going, dad.

Salvation Army bells ring in Christmas. Other sounds of the season include the whir of chainsaws cutting evergreen trees, oven timers announcing that the cookies are done, frustrated voices swearing at tangled strands of lights. (Next month, credit card bills will prompt similar cursing.)

The string of sleigh bells  we tie to the front door start sounding the moment I move the box where they’re stored the rest of the year. The season has officially begun for me.

We all have favorite smells of Christmas — those cookies baking to warm perfection, the freshly cut tree giving off its sharp scent, an orange releasing its essence as you peel it.

The orange tradition goes back generations to times when citrus and nuts were the cherished — and only — treats at Christmas. So Santa always tops each of our stockings with a big orange. I might be the one who winds up eating them all but, by gosh, we’re going to keep up the family tradition.

Some tastes come only at this time of year too, like candy canes and cranberry bread. We eat baked grapefruit on Christmas morning, something that started the year Dad sent us a box of grapefruit instead of oranges. There are very few things that can’t be improved with a little melted butter and brown sugar.

Back to the sounds of Christmas. The songs we hear range from “O Come O Come Immanuel” to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” (Let’s forget “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”)

A song from one of Amy Grant’s Christmas albums seems especially appropriate this year, “Grown Up Christmas Wish.” Here are a few lines:

Do you remember me

I sat upon your knee

I wrote to you with childhood fantasies

Well I’m all grown up now

And still need help somehow

I’m not a child but my heart still can dream

So here’s my lifelong wish,

My grown up Christmas list,

Not for myself but for a world in need.

No more lives torn apart.

Then wars would never start,

And time would heal all hearts. …

So here are some of those wishes, less poetic but just as heartfelt: 

Less Facebook, more face-to-face time.

Less indifference, more empathy.

Less me-first, more you-first.

Less crime, more security.

Less child neglect, more child nurturing.

Less disease, more cures.

Less harassment, more respect.

Less loneliness, more  friendship.

Less greed, more investment in people’s lives.

Less cutting corners and more pride in quality.

Less suspicion and more understanding.

Less prejudice, more openness.

Less despair, more hope.

Less “Hey, y’all, watch this,” and more “Watch out.”

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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