Another Christmas

I’m embarrassed to admit that for the past few years I’ve been beginning to feel like Scrooge. In spite of my best efforts to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, the overwhelming commercialism and frantic pace of the season wears me down. I’m all for gathering with family and friends during the holiday season, but the past few years I spend more time behind the wheel traveling than anywhere else. And because my wife, Kay, is so good about remembering everyone at Christmas, I spend most of December helping her wrap presents.

I really feel guilty that I’m not more excited about the holiday season. So I thought a little mental reminder was in order. I tried to recall past Christmases that were still vivid in my memory.

When I was a kid, my maternal grandparents would arrive with the trunk of their car packed with presents. My grandfather was the son of immigrants who was forced to drop out of school to support his family, but went on to become a very successful businessman. I think he went overboard with presents for his grandchildren because he had so little when he was young. We got in trouble one year when he woke me up before everyone else because he couldn’t wait to see my reaction when I opened a terrific electric train set he had bought for me.

My senior year in college, my roommate asked me to be his best man at his wedding in Aspen during Christmas break. A blizzard struck the Rockies as I was boarding the bus in Denver for the trip. What was normally about a three hour ride turned into more than 12 hours. I barely made the wedding and caught a serious cold from lack of sleep. I spent Christmas sick in bed and was still recovering in early January at the tryouts for the ’68 Olympic Team. I probably wouldn’t have made that team even if I’d been healthy, but I’d definitely have been much closer.

During the Christmas of 1970, I was in Phung Hiep, South Vietnam, helping to prepare a modest holiday dinner for my mobile advisory team and the district advisory team, together not quite a dozen Americans. As we were about to sit down, an agitated Vietnamese soldier ran in pleading for help. There had been an accident in the village and an American advisor was needed immediately. I was selected.

My team medic, Sargent Boone volunteered to go with me. In the center of the village we encountered an angry crowd of Vietnamese surrounding the scene of a fatal accident. A large, American truck, driven by a very scared, very young American G.I. had struck and killed a local Vietnamese man on a motor scooter. The scooter was crushed, a dark red pool of blood was spreading from under the man’s head, and the gathering crowd appeared ready to beat the American kid to death with their bare hands. To make matters worse, when I spoke to the kid to get his side of the story, I detected the distinct aroma of marijuana.

Sargent Boone and I were able to defuse the situation, get the American kid back in his truck and out of the village, and gather information on the victim for possible compensation. But needless to say, it was not a merry Christmas.

My late wife, Mimi, died of cancer in January of 1998. To be truthful, I don’t remember anything of Christmas that year.

So put into perspective, an overload of advertising and a busy schedule isn’t much to complain about. And in fact, I have several wonderful, relatively recent developments to focus on. First of all, my wife, Kay, does a terrific job of “keeping Christmas.” There is no slacking in regard to the holiday when she’s involved. For the past six years she has directed The Christmas Mystery, a community pageant in Hanover, N.H., which is said to be the longest, continually running Christmas pageant in the nation. The singing never fails to bring me to tears. If I’m feeling like Scrooge, the Christmas Mystery will get me back in the spirit.

And perhaps most important, between us, Kay and I have three (soon four) grandchildren. If you feel like you are losing the true meaning of the holiday, just sit down with a three-year-old and read a couple of the Christmas classics. I guarantee that will erase any frustrations you may have and refocus you on what truly matters about Christmas.

John Morton

John Morton is a former Olympic biathlete and Nordic ski coach. He lives in Thetford Center, where he designs Nordic ski trails. You can reach him through his website,

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