TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT

1. It’s Christmas Eve.

2. For some reason, Handel’s “Messiah” gets all the buzz at the holidays. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful work.

But when it comes to Christmas choral masterpieces, I’m all in on Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio.” It proclaims the holiday with amazing flourishes. I feel as though it’s the official sound of Christmas.

Yes, I realize it’s in German. That detracts not one note from its brilliance.

I don’t understand why it’s almost never performed live in the United States. When I tried to find a live performance, the closest appeared to be in London.

3. Believe it or not, I was going to do a political rant tonight. I had a clever “Yes, Virginia, there is a war on Christmas” lead that would have said something about the fact that the war on the spirit of Christmas is being waged by people who say they’re offended when someone wishes them “Happy holidays!”

But Christmas is a powerful force. And when you get to the quiet of Christmas Eve, and the reflection on all that is good in your life and all that you wish for those you care about, the pettiness, the sniping, the rigidity all seem silly.

Instead, there is calm and joy. The fact that I’m with my wife and my children, who I re-realize are the best gifts I’ll ever receive. That I’ve seen all the lights again, and heard the great music, and eaten better than I should. That my friends are enjoying this holiday with their families around the world.

There’s also wistfulness. There are friends and family absent from this night, people who I would conjure if I could, to stand or sit here and talk and laugh and be part of my life for one more night. I try as hard as I can to make them reappear and I come so close.

4. I’m thinking about one person in particular tonight.

In 1976, I was trying to get a full-time job as a broadcast writer for the Associated Press, and was on a roster of part-time substitutes called the “variables.” Someone called in sick for the night shift on Dec. 24, and I was called. Accepting it would mean missing Christmas Eve, the greatest night in my family’s year. And yet, I did it. I thought – wisely, as it turned out – that it might turn into the job I wanted.

It was hard because I didn’t really know the staff that was working. But I slugged it out and it was just past 11.

That’s when the sports writer that night, an older guy – he was all of 46 then – was getting ready to catch the last bus to his home in the Jersey suburbs. But before he did, he walked around the room. He shook hands with everyone in it, asked how they and their families were celebrating the holiday, and wished them a Merry Christmas. That everyone included me, someone he had never met until that night, and who was amazed that someone would take the time to care about my holiday.

The man’s name was Marv Schneider. He died earlier this year. He was Jewish and, if asked, would say he didn’t celebrate Christmas.

But he did. He gave comfort and cheer to his colleagues on a special night. And his gifts, his kindness, his friendship and his wit, lasted longer that anything else I received that holiday. They live tonight in my heart, and I feel as though I came oh, so, close to bringing him back.

So tonight, as I get ready for a busy Christmas Day, I’m thinking of Marv and my grandfather and my Aunt Fran and lots of other people – living or otherwise. I’m seeing their smiles and enjoying the sounds of their voice and hoping at this moment, wherever they are, whatever they believe, with whomever else they’re spending this time, that they are happy and at peace. I miss the ones I can’t see again, smile at the prospect that I can see the others again sometime, and know that that’s what Christmas means to me.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. To all my friends and family, whether they celebrate tonight or not, peace, love, happiness and a kind handshake.

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