Tuesday, December 20, 2016

On the Homefront: Old Traditions, New Traditions & Traditional Values

Several years ago my wife and I awoke to an elf in our house. He wore red, with some white mixed into the outfit.
Somehow, some way, he left right after Christmas.
He was contracted out to keep an eye on our home thanks to my brother-in-law and his fiance.

Not to be outdone, a few years later, my mom decided to play the role of kvelling bubbie and got in touch with someone to send a mensch our way. He holds the lead Hanukkah candle for each of the eight crazy nights of that holiday.

As many parents this time of year are aware, these elves choose a different place to perch themselves each night. This year our elf has been quite lazy. Perhaps he has reached the age of reason - in elf years of course - and has decided to protest his given name: Dip Dop. The name was chosen when my wife and I asked our son what to call the elf...and our son was still around pre-K age.

Or, perhaps Dip Dop is just tired. When he started his post in our house, his responsibility included a rambunctious little boy and a plump-cheeked little girl who really was still figuring out stairs and a fork. Today, Dip Dop must navigate a maze of toys to keep track of a 10-year-old with a mind too mature (and unfiltered) for his own good, a 7-year-old with drama lurking at the corner of every favor asked, and a 2-year-old who is responsible for the maze of toys.
As seen on this page, Dip Dop spent the past day hanging out on a picture book of all members of our family. So it's pretty obvious that despite what can only be described as his laziness this year, he still seems to be happy to be here, and to be our elf. Some other spots we've found him since his arrival on Nov. 25 (the day after Thanksgiving) were in the branches of one of the Christmas trees, lounging on books on a shelf, crouching in an empty silver sugar bowl, hanging from the mistletoe, and squished inside a decorative lantern.
Meanwhile, a quick look at some of my friends on Facebook has shown that we are lucky. Their elves are much, much more creative.
Guess what? I'm not complaining. Neither are the kids, really. So long as Dip Dop moves, they are satisfied. Every morning the two girls come downstairs and search for the scout and upon finding him they smile and laugh. Dip Dop may be tired and worn out for the time being, but I'm pretty sure I always see him give an extra wide smile when he's found. He knows how special it is to keep the magic of the holidays alive.
As for his compatriot, the mensch? Well, as you can see from the photo elsewhere on this page, the mensch is a bit older, and he showed up with his own bench. He sits on that bench, and unlike Dip Dop, Moshe (the mensch's name) hasn't moved. This is completely understandable. You see, he's got a beard with lots of grey in it, so he's a bit on the older side. He's wearing good clothes. He's holding a candle that is quite obviously lit when he comes to life, and it has got to be difficult to move an entire bench with one arm. That said, at least he is sitting in the room in our house where the hanukiah (menorah used for Hanukkah) will be lit. He can keep an eye on the miracle of lights that way.
Now, the title of this "On the homefront" dealt with traditions and traditional values. Dip Dop and Moshe represent both old and new traditions. For years I always thought Santa Claus was watching over all the good little boys and girls who celebrated Christmas. He has a list, and he checks it twice. Thanks to Dip Dop and all his elf buddies, at least now he has plenty of help. Let's call it an advance in efficiency. Moshe, on the other hand, is a pretty new addition to Hanukkah. Not that I'm complaining, since there's always a feeling of "the more the merrier" this time of year.
The traditional values portion of the title fall more in line with some of the things I like to try to bring to the forefront of my life this time of year.  As the saying goes, it is better to give than receive. To be sure, there is no shortage of things to open in our house on Christmas morning, and thanks to various family members pitching in, Hanukkah is fun for the kids for each of its eight nights.
However, to find what I consider to be the most traditional value of the holidays in general, I normally look no further than Alistair Sim and Jimmy Stewart. One starred in what I consider the standard bearer of all "A Christmas Carol" film adaptations. The other showed us all that the so-called "butterfly effect" can be quite severe and that we are indeed put on this earth for a purpose, even if we may never know what it is or was.
A few years ago I spent five straight nights reading the story of Ebenezer Scrooge to our son. The story is timeless, and it ends with perhaps the most simple of messages that can be found in most decent people, and has been rehashed time and time again. That message, normally heard this time of year in song with the lyrics "peace on earth, good will toward men" was echoed by none other than esteemed educator George Feeney in the Boy Meets World series finale nearly 17 years ago when he implored the cast to "dream, try...do good." It was spoken by Ted "Theodore" Logan's captive, Abraham Lincoln, who instructed the students at San Dimas to "be excellent to each other" in this excellent adventure we call life.
And life is indeed wonderful. Jimmy Stewart's character of George Bailey may be the most memorable one in the Capra classic, but a quick look at the quotes on IMDB.com shows that in my mind, there are two that prove how and why that movie is a holiday staple.
The first is spoken by Clarence. As he is taking Stewart's George Bailey on a "tour" of life without George Bailey actually in it, he tells him, "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" (This sentiment is more remembered by what Clarence wrote to George at the end of the movie: "No man is a failure who has friends.")
The second, and one that honestly I didn't remember until reading all the quotes online, was spoken by George's dad.
"All you can take with you is that which you've given away."

I suppose the message in all of this holiday mumbojumbo is the following: Christmas may be a religious holiday for many, but thanks to commercialism it has become greatly secularized. Yet the theme of the holiday season (there are several holidays this time of year, and two are celebrated in my house) is quite simply one of being a good person. And no matter what you believe, I think that is a tradition we can all get behind.
Howie Balaban wishes there was more than just Adam Sandler's song(s) for Hanukkah, but he is still grateful for them.