By Jim Kempton
When my wife and I were first married and had just bought our dream house (a 1,100-square-foot Ole Hanson cottage in southwest San Clemente near T-Street), I went out for an early morning walk with the dog. We had no children yet and the invited parents, relatives, in-laws and friends were hours away from arriving for the big afternoon Christmas dinner my wife and I both loved to put on.
On the corner of Trafalgar and Ola Vista, on a clear, crisp, Southern California Dec. 25, I experienced an epiphany: there, just outside his home, a little towheaded boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, had received a puppy for Christmas. The look of pure unadulterated joy on his face was a marvel to behold. His eyes were lit, arms flailing, feet pattering and voice gurgling in unbounded excitement of the discovery.
I stood unnoticed, a silent un-intruding observer. “Wow,” I thought, “That is how I want to remember Christmas morning.”
It was the first inkling of what was to come down the path of life for me: children, challenge, wonder.
In the meantime I would learn many important things about Christmas—that not all people stop Christmas shopping just because they run out of money, that it was important to get gifts into the mail early so the Post Office could still lose them in time for the holidays. That the living proof of women’s superiority could be found in watching men attempting to wrap presents. Everybody knows fruitcakes are universally despised and yet we keep sending them as gifts—sometimes the same ones we got. Finding a parking space in a crowded mall the week before Christmas was best done by following a lady down a parking aisle (like three wise men following the star) in hopes she may lead you to an open parking space near the manger.
We would move several times from our first little house, adding bedrooms like children or vice versa. As our brood grew we would discover other important truths: Presents will likely be broken within the first hour of opening them in direct proportion to sticker price and no-return policy. No matter how carefully you wrap and pack the white blinker lights, they will not work for the following holiday season. Batteries are never included in presents that require ones you don’t have in the house.
And the children would teach us some simple truths too: Keeping the myth of Santa Claus is not nearly as important as sharing the spirit of St. Nicholas. It is far better to decorate the tree with the kids no matter what the result than to decorate it perfectly without them. That the cost of a gift had no bearing on the enjoyment; the imagination was far more joyful than the physical entity. Christmas morning has always been the best moments of the year in our house.
Our kids are grown-up now, and though they still love Christmas more than any other day of the year, the scene is all a little less rambunctious than it once was.
But the message of the Prince of Peace—that love and charity, humility and sharing, generosity and kindness is what saves us—is still the real reason we give gifts and celebrate the day. And to find that joyous moment when we see the world as a little child does. So this year I have decided to get up just a little bit early and take the dog for a long walk. There are a lot of kids who live in our neighborhood. You never know; I might just be lucky enough to find that magic morning one more time.
Jim Kempton is a former President of the San Clemente Historical Society. He hopes you will support them so that our old buildings can grow older with dignity.