My Favorite Time of Year

By John Gilstrap

It’s tradition in the Gilstrap house that Christmas decorations go up on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and come down on New Years Day. In the past 25 years, there have been no exceptions. And when I say decorations, I mean decorations. In my book, you can’t have enough lights or greenery or Santas or Nativity scenes. It’s never about impressing the neighbors, either; it’s about celebrating the season.

This is a time of year when I can get a little weepy—but in a good way. It’s a season of kindness and good deeds. As the decorations go up in DC, moods lighten palpably. People say hello and hold doors for others. More people wave with all their fingers instead of just one. For me, it’s the time of year when the impossible seems more plausible, where quiet moments bring more pleasure than usual.

I love the fact that the Christmas season celebrates ritual. The box in which we keep the treetop ornament of my youth is lined on the bottom with the New Years Day Atlantic City Press from 1964, the year my family moved into the first house I can remember as a child, and on the top with the New Years Day Washington Post from 1985, the first holiday my wife and I celebrated as spouses. The mantle ornament is one that my mother bought for us before she died. The tree ornaments include decorations made in childhood by my wife, my son and me. I still hang a stocking that was handmade by my grandmother, and still holds the silver dollars that Uncle Henny gave me when I was four or five years old.

Tree ornaments commemorate every trip our family has ever taken together, as well as other significant moments along the way. We all agree that some of the older ornaments are certifiably ugly, but they get places of honor as well.

Over the next four or five weeks, my son and I will watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, Home Alone, The Santa Clause and The Polar Express, because we love the movies, and because they each, in their own way, capture the essential heart of the season. It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story were dropped from the list a few years ago, but who knows? Maybe they’ll make a return.

As I write all of this down, it occurs to me that it all seems a bit regimented, and maybe it is, but I’ve always been a big believer in traditions, because within traditions there lies evidence of a family’s love for one another. If, one day, my son’s traditions include well-told stories about how over-the-top in love his old man was with all things Christmas, that can’t possibly be a bad thing.

I understand that the season brings dark feelings to some people, and I know that many of my artistic brethren look with cynicism on the commercialization of the Christmas season. To both groups I extend heartfelt condolences. Cynicism is only as deep as your next kind word, and as fragile as a charitable act for a stranger.

Truly, God bless us every one.