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The real Santa Claus came to Bolton, Massachusetts today!
We all know that Santa hires "Mall Santas" to go around and represent him during this busy season. But that didn't happen today in Bolton. Yes, I was granted an early wish as the real Santa decided to make a surprise visit to Bruce Slater's Great Brook Farms. And there were none of those pesky photographers to get in the way of my own camera and Santa. Bruce's wonderful store was filled with happy children and adults. There were cookies and candy canes and hot cider and a fireplace. What a wonderful treat!
Was this Santa really the genuine article? I am well aware that many decry the Santa tradition as detracting from the religious aspects of the season. Perhaps they feel that Santa is part of the "commercialization" problem of Christmas. Still others feel that Santa is a great big lie and that we harm our children by letting them believe in the lie.
There's a word that describes these people: humbugs! What's wonderful about being a child is that you still have your imagination! As we grow older, this is one of the first things we lose, right along with our childhood innocence. But is what we imagine not real? Do children end up traumatized because their parents perpetuated a grand lie for so many years? Silly! Dr. John Condry of Cornell University interviewed more than 500 children who learned "the truth" and there was not one child who was angry at his or her parents. The most common response was that children felt more mature. My own experiences attest to this finding. We have a Christmas Eve tradition of over half a century of dressing up as Santa for the family and handing out and opening presents. Two years ago my oldest daughter knew it was me and helped me dress that evening. She felt so completely special. She had "grown up". If anyone should be traumatized it should have been me the parent. But even that I cannot complain about because it makes me proud to see my children reach new stages in life.
I haven't yet reached the point where my children don't believe in "The Real Santa". And, truthfully, I hope I never do. What's special about Christmas and Santa is that they are within us. In our adult hearts, I believe we mourn that we lost our gift of imagination and our ability to believe in things beyond ourselves. This is the lie. For it is a fact that there is much that exists beyond us. Yes, it kills me to not be able to tell my daughter that the new microscope came from me. But it also makes me happy at the same time. What keeps this tradition going is that as adults we desperately want to believe!
Christmas doesn't have to be about over-commercialization. Years ago I would have a tradition of frantically shopping one or two days before Christmas and would wrack my brain trying to figure out what to buy for everyone on my list. As I got older, things changed. The spirit of giving is with me quite a bit. And now I regularly see or think of things that would make my loved ones smile. They don't need to be expensive gifts or require trips to a crowded Walmart on Black Friday. This is one of the wonderful advantages of the Internet. You can shop from the comfort of your own home. You can save money and repurpose items from Ebay. Or you can even make your own gifts. The spirit of giving is really what Christmas is about for me. It's a spirit that should be with us all year long. Christmas gives us an opportunity to renew that spirit.
So, Christmas morning I will come downstairs with the kids at 6am. They will open presents. I will show them the half-eaten cookies on the kitchen table and the carrots on the back deck.
And I will smile.
While I am a Dad now, I still believe. For what I didn't tell you was that Santa today pulled me aside and told me to take the letters my children brought for him and put them in their stockings on Christmas morning. I know this Santa cannot go to every house in the world. He needs parents like me to help him do his work. So, why do I believe? I kept looking over at Santa today. He was so kind. He had such a mellow voice. He had a real and old beard! He smiled! He seemed so genuinely happy to be around all the children. He greeted each child in such a special way.
And I kept looking and sneaking a peek.
As we were preparing to leave, I looked once more and Santa gave me a wink!
He knew I believed.
External Link: Great Brook Farms
In a wonderful and moving tribute, the students at Center School in Stow make stars in honor of local service men and women and hang them on the windows.
Veterans Day is quite special to me. Pretty much every day I take a moment to celebrate that the freedoms we enjoy–of speech, assembly, voting–are made possible and protected by brave men and women who fight and have fought for us. They make incredible sacrifices, from disrupting their family lives to giving up their lives. They have done so for centuries, and continue to do so today.
I shudder to know, but readily admit I am not surprised, that there are those among us who consider serving in the military to be "about politics". At Milton High School in Massachusetts, the principal is arguing that if military recruiters are allowed to come to a career fair, the school must also have present anti-military protesters in order to give "equal time". Does the school require anti-[fill in your career here] protesters for other careers? Of course not. When the military comes to a career fair, this is just like any other career. But Milton High is going to demand that an organization called "Milton for Peace" should be there to provide alternative views. Does "Milton for Peace" stand for a certain career path? No. So why should they be allowed at a career fair? This is not too difficult an issue folks. It's quite silly that administrators are making these decisions because they feel a sense of duty to protect our kids from politics, yet are actually making it all about politics! A career in the military is certainly not about politics, it's about serving and protecting your country. Is "Milton for Peace" about politics? Just go check out their website where they say nothing about career paths, but rather post position statements of opinion concerning our current wars. School Committee member Mary Kelly made a wonderful argument saying basically this point. To which Principal John Drottar made the nonsensical statement, "the other side is to go back and ban both" and then continued to make further completely nonsensical statements. Others went on to say that graduating high school students are "impressionable" so they have to provide "alternative views" and "equal time", presumably to stop these stupid students from making an obviously wrong decision.
Even more shameful is Steve Almond who wrote an op-ed piece in The Boston Globe mid September where he bashed the military and its supporters. Now I can see where he's coming from. But he's simply misguided and I feel badly for him. He feels it's "tragic" that we, as a progressive society I assume, need to even have an army. That we pay soldiers to, first and foremost, kill people. We look to "heroic violence as a means of spiritual regeneration." And his next sentence is most hurtful of all: "Our most powerful nation myth is the notion that anyone fighting on our behalf is a hero."
I will tell you why I think these are stupid and dangerous words and fundamentally flawed. First and foremost, he has the freedom to write these words because others fought to obtain and protect those freedoms. Yet he conveniently overlooks that glaring fact. Is it "sad" that we had to defeat Hitler and Japanese Imperialism? Or were those great victories for democracy and freedom? It is a reality that people live and die. We live in an earthly realm. Conflict goes back to the Book of Genesis and wars are at the heart of The Old Testament. There is definitely a place where there is no war and no armies. Most call it heaven, but others call this place "Universe" or "The Enlightened Place" or "Collective Human Consciousness". It is vast and it is very real. I can attest to this, as I have been there. But this place, by whatever words we choose to call it, transcends our Earth-bound existence. As humans we are inexorably bound to our genetics which lead us into conflict. Conflict helps us to progress and provides context for our existence. There will always be those out there who will want to harm us. We cannot all live on Earth and be in The Enlightened Place. I don't expect that of humanity and neither should you.
So, I say to each and every veteran I meet: "Thank you for your service!" And I say it with as much pride as anything else I have or will ever say.
Last night I attended my fifth or sixth Town Meeting and, like voting, it's a very humbling experience. Stow has an open Town Meeting, which means it's open to all voters. I grew up in a town that had representative Town Meeting, which meant that the town was too big to house all the voters who would want to come. While my middle school history teacher tried to explain what it was (he was a representative), I never understood it until I moved to Stow. It's a practice that dates back to colonial times and is somewhat unique to New England. We have a moderator who makes sure everything runs smoothly and it's quite official with the Town Clerk on stage, the Selectmen, Town Administrator, and Finance Committee seated at the front and we methodically plod through the Warrant which specifies each and every piece of spending for the following year's budget.
If you want to participate in how your town is run, move to a town like Stow that has such a form of self government. You get to decide how much each town employee gets paid, whether the fire department will get that shiny new fire truck, and all kinds of other issues that may seem mundane to most, but are really quite interesting. Over the years we have had contentious debates on big projects like whether to fund a new school or buy land for playing fields and little things like whether to officially recognize the name of a road. But the great thing about Town Meeting is that anyone can discuss any of the items on the warrant. You can ask Why does this person get paid this much?" or "Why doesn't the police department buy a hybrid vehicle?" (a perennial favorite). If you want, you can feel free to vote against every spending article if you want and have the satisfaction of knowing you did so. And unlike large elections that don't turn on a single vote, often Town Meeting votes are quite close. In Town Meeting your vote certainly counts! Especially if there is an issue that divides the town.
Unfortunately, last night we learned that our Town Moderator, Ed Newman, is suffering a serious illness. Gary Horowitz (pictured), Deputy Moderator, ran the show and broke the news to everyone in attendance at the beginning. He read an optimistic letter from Newman who vowed to preside over next year's gala. Town Meeting, while it has its moments, is certainly far from boring. During votes or down times various people "entertain"–this year there were presentations on the upcoming 325th Anniversary celebration known as Springfest as well as an update on our elementary school building effort. Plus, you get to talk to lots of people you don't usually get a chance to talk to. Apparently, though, not everyone appreciates the power they have at Town Meeting or appreciates the entertainment. Attendance last night was 211 and there are 4464 registered voters; a rate of a little less than 5 percent.