Once upon a time there was a curmudgeon who really wasn't.

He tried to live up (or down) to the image; but, few of the folks around him were convinced.

"Too danged early," he proclaimed almost daily as folks all over the newspaper office sprinkled bits of tinsel throughout. None of them had fully digested their Thanksgiving turkey when they began their mad rush to Christmas.

The office Christmas tree was pulled from a closet and festooned with various baubles while recorded carols played in the lobby. The curmudgeon's bride (who knew him better than he knew himself) fixed up a sweatshirt in the finest tradition of Ebeneezer Scrooge. "Bah humbug" it proclaimed, as did he. She knew he didn't mean it, and he did too.

A tiny Santa in his sleigh, pulled by festive reindeer was attached to his office window. He tried taking it down a couple of times each year, only to have it mysteriously return the next day. Before Thanksgiving, and every day up until the big day, a joyful elf who had been at The Messenger most of her life would begin appearing in Christmas sweatshirts. "I have to start early, she said, "because I have so many of these to wear before Christmas."

Being a sweater and tie executive, the curmudgeon generally refrained from wearing his "Bah humbug" sweatshirt to the office. As it turned out, he was less convincing than he had hoped to be.

A couple of days after Thanksgiving, I (err ... the curmudgeon) mellowed out ... or so I'm told. Even last week, when folks he knew had already put up their Christmas trees and multiple decorations, he tried to be critical of the practice that was "too danged early." But it was hopeless, because he secretly enjoyed seeing the lights. When his daughter needed an extra outside outlet for one of her lighted decorations, he was happy (dare I say eager) to install it.

What the curmudgeon has learned over the years is that he can't fool many people, especially his bride. Inwardly, he shares the joy in anticipation of Christmas, though he still prefers to get Thanksgiving behind him first. His family, like many others, celebrates "Thanksmas" every other year. Because our three married children have spouse families to enjoy, everyone is here one year for Thanksgiving (when we gather around the tree) and the next year for Christmas. It's never too danged early for the love of family shared by simply being together.

So the curmudgeon stored the sweatshirt in the closet, to be worn during yard work on cool days. When the weather is stinking hot, he brings out one of his three zillion band tee shirts to absorb the sweat and grime of lawn duty. While proclaiming "Bah humbug" to folks at The Messenger, he inwardly shared in the joy of anticipated Christmas as his children grew into adulthood. That joy was only increased when grandchildren came along, melting his heart and any semblance of Ebeneezer Scrooge. Christmas programs, caroling, sappy Hallmark movies and Christmas parades in November put him in the mood.

Perhaps all these things transported him back to his childhood, when Christmas celebrations began just a few days before Dec. 25. Back then, the tree was real, sentiments were genuine and the sparse number of gifts were as meaningful as anything could be.

The curmudgeon, a Christian who has been taught the true meaning of Christmas since childhood, is preparing for the big celebration of Christ's birth. While it is true that much of the shopping frenzy and other activities are intermingled with this preparation, he prays for a world where the central focus will always be on the Reason For The Season.

It's never too early for that.


Tom Clinton retired as executive editor of The Messenger in 2011. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Lone Oak.

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