Tales from the Chief: The dawn of a new year
'We Spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of our year. We live the whole three-hundred and sixty-five.'
Each Christmas Eve since 2002, my wife and I — now joined by our two children — have followed a routine that includes a 4 p.m. church service, a relatively light dinner, a drive around town to check out Christmas lights and, lastly, sharing assorted snacks while watching the 1951 film version of "A Christmas Carol" (released as "Scrooge" in England) starring Alastair Sim. All of this has become a collective family tradition, and there's never any thought leading up to Dec. 24 as to whether any of this will happen. It simply will, or it won't be a McGaughey Christmas.
Several folks, of course, didn't have their typical Christmases this year, and this is just the latest cruelty in a year that so many of us would like to simply forget. Yet, I've also heard multiple people express gratitude for a renewed appreciation of life's simple pleasures in the midst of a nine-months-and-counting pandemic. A common variation of this is, "We may not be able to do a lot of what we like, but we do have each other." People who have been fortunate enough to remain healthy — or have loved ones remain healthy — are perhaps more thankful for this than ever before. The same thing goes for having a job, a roof over one's head or an ample savings. Many rely on their faith to keep persevering during these trying times, and are grateful to God for being given the gift of unconditional love and forgiveness.
This was the 19th consecutive year that we've sat down to watch "A Christmas Carol," and our initial viewing of it in the COVID-19 era. Perhaps because of the sentiments I expressed earlier, the film seemed to take on a different sort of meaning in 2020. Ebenezer Scrooge, in his way, was existing in a self-imposed quarantine before being visited by the spirits that changed his life. He lived alone, and simply didn't allow anyone or anything (other than this work) to get close to him or affect him emotionally. Yet, this wall he built for himself was doing nothing but isolating him further from the real world and the simple joys it can offer at any time.
After Scrooge is visited by the spirit of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Past, he has realized the errors of his ways, yet appears to be afraid of change and believes himself incapable of it. He tells the Ghost of Christmas Present, "I'm too old and beyond hope. Go and redeem some younger, more promising creature, and leave me to keep Christmas in my own way." The response he receives, however, is as perfect for the middle of the 19th century as it is for 2020: " Mortal. We Spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of our year. We live the whole three-hundred and sixty-five. So is it true of the Child born in Bethlehem. He does not live in men's hearts one day of the year, but in all days of the year. You have chosen not to seek Him in your heart. Therefore, you will come with me and seek Him in the hearts of men of good will."
In 19 years of watching this movie, I'd certainly heard that quotation before, but it sure resonated this year. Whether we're living in a time of mandatory mask-wearing or not, the message was clear: we should continue to live every day in the best way we can, and above all with love in our hearts.
On Christmas Night, about 24 hours after our traditional viewing of "A Christmas Carol," Grace, Becca and I watched the new Pixar film "Soul" on Disney+. While I've got to confess that I was disappointed overall (given its 97% Rotten Tomatoes score, especially), the movie wasn't without its positives. For one, New York City was rendered in an absolutely gorgeous way, with everything from its lighting to the hustle and bustle conveyed wonderfully, Second, and more importantly, the overall theme reminds the audience to not take life for granted, and to enjoy the simple things. We may not know exactly where we're going or how we're going to get there, but we should nevertheless be happy to enjoy the opportunity of taking the ride.
Let's all hope that "the ride" for all of us is a little easier in 2021 — and full of simple pleasures and rewards for all of us.