July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Snapshots: I’m dreaming of a day to wrap presents in peace

Editor’s note: This is a revised version of a column that ran several years ago.

By Judy A. Totts

Editorial Staff

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.”

All right. I admit it. I love schmaltzy Christmas movies, the schmaltzier, the better. “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And every year I look forward to Bing Crosby’s smooth and wistful rendition of “White Christmas” as he and Danny Kaye, dressed in army fatigues, stand on a makeshift stage amid the ruins of a village somewhere in Europe during World War II. It is my absolute favorite of all schmaltzy movies, maybe because my dad fought in World War II, and I can picture him sitting in the audience, listening to Bing croon nostalgically, dreaming himself home for the holidays, or at least someplace away from the bitter cold and the fighting for a while.

We own a copy of the movie, so I can watch it any time I want, but I haul it only once a year, on the day I set aside to wrap Christmas presents. It is a tradition I intend to keep as long as I believe in Santa Claus, and since I’m 56 and still believe, I figure I’m good for at least another 40 years or so, or as long as the DVD holds out.

“Where the treetops glisten, and children listen, to hear sleigh bells in the snow.”

I don’t know about your kids, but when mine were young, they listened for the rustle of wrapping paper.

My solo “wrapping day” at our house came about in response to hours of being scrunched into my tiny home office and studio — my office could have been used for Apollo astronaut training — while the children hovered near the door, hoping for a peek at the presents swaddled in tissue and tape. There’s not much elbow room in there; it took a contortionist’s ability to complete each package. Curling ribbon unspooled itself and rolled beneath my desk where it lassoed dust bunnies and measured the length of the room.

Weekends that could have been better spent baking cookies or taking children sledding instead turned into frustrating question-and-answer games: “Where’s the Scotch tape?” and “What do you mean, there isn’t any more?” and then maniacal laughter in reply to my husband’s innocent query about supper.

Finally, the dust bunnies and I had had enough.

I picked a day before the kids escaped from school for winter vacation, when my husband was at work and all the presents were purchased.

Like a chef working the mis en place technique, I assembled all the ingredients of my day ahead of time: paper, tape, gift tags, gifts, checklist, pen, Bing and Danny and the number to my favorite Chinese takeout for my lunch.

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, with every Christmas card I write,”

I know the movie by heart.

As I measure and cut, tape and write out tags, I still laugh at Kaye’s slapstick antics, still choke up when all the men come to the inn to honor their former commander.

The lyrics are so simple, so short-and-sweet. When I first heard the song, I kept expecting more, and truth be told, there is an introductory section people rarely hear. Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1942, and Crosby sang it in the movie “Holiday Inn,” but they omitted the original opening lines:

“The sun is shining

The grass is green

The orange and palm trees sway.

I’ve never seen such a day

In Beverly Hills L.A.

But it’s December the 24th

And I am longing to be up North.”

I don’t know what musical line is married to the original opening, but I like the shortened version Crosby recorded better.

For soldiers slogging through the mud to the front lines or entrenched under a blistering Pacific Theater sun, it said it all.
In spite of, or maybe because of, its Grandma Moses symbolism, it manages to take listeners into the sweet mystery of the season.

It bundles us up in a familiar, safe place where church bells ring through a cold, starry midnight.

But like bittersweet chocolate, it leaves a minor key taste in your mouth, that bit of longing wrapped in hope.

It is a look back, but it also is a beginning, an opening of the door to your house and your soul.

“May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.”

Totts may be reached at 330-721-4063 or religion@ohio.net.