Thanksgiving Day is over and now we Mercedians happily gear up for Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Christmas (or all of them together).
Depending on whom you are, these are very intensive days for the average citizen. There is a rush to shop, the putting up of your Christmas tree, buying olive oil for lighting the menorah, or picking out the proper heritage gift for Kwanzaa.
If you are a pastor you will be hard at work getting that Christmas Eve sermon just right and be anxious to greet your flock at this most sacred of church services.
In this regard, I am reminded of the following joke told to me by a pastor friend:
"Jack was in front coming out of church one day, and I, as his pastor, was standing at the door as I always am to shake hands.
"I grabbed Jack by the hand and pulled him aside. As his pastor I said to him, 'You need to join the Army of the Lord!' Jack replied, 'I'm already in the Army of the Lord, pastor.'
"So I asked the natural question, 'How come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?' Jack whispered back, 'I'm in the Secret service.' "
Holiday shopping can be easy and fun or it can be difficult and tedious. It all depends on your mindset. Being the sort of friendly person that you all know me to be, I would like to offer all of my Merced friends, in the city and county, some helpful suggestions to allay stress and make these few weeks as easy as possible on your shopping psyches.
For the environmentalists among us, I would suggest that you gift your loved ones with organic and eco-friendly underwear. It is the latest rage in the "green" community even if the price tag is not necessarily user- friendly.
For those who are perennial protesters and for those gearing up for the upcoming mayoral race (and I hear that the field is wide open) might I suggests buying them never-ending ink pens so that there is no interruption in their protest or campaign spinning. By the way, you can go on line to Amazon.com and find them at a reasonable price.
For those who want to instill the proper holiday spirit in their children, might I suggest you consider visiting the lovely holiday crèches and nativity plays that adorn our county? I personally know of two that are magnificent, one in Merced and the other in Hilmar.
For those who are stuck in filling out their 1040s, I remind you to take full advantage of the charitable deduction given you by Uncle Sam. The United Way, Food Bank Christmas Food Drive or gifts to the men and women who are steadily transforming their lives at the Rescue Mission are just a few of the suggestions that come to mind.
For those who want to just bring holiday cheer to the community, I suggest you emulate retired Superior Court Judge Robert Quall who organizes caroling and gifts in some of Merced's poorest neighborhoods. The singing is a bit off key but the spirit is warm and willing.
For those who are concerned about the dearth of dining in our city, might I suggest that you invite that single mother and child, widow or widower, divorcee, or elderly neighbor to your holiday table? This is the best gift possible and requires no extra shopping time at all.
Shopping can be a chore but at Christmastime it should be a joy. Do not allow yourselves to become "Christmassed out" by Thanksgiving. Ask yourselves why you are doing all this running around.
Can you remember the Christmases of yesteryear? It was a time to give, like God had given. It was a time when people felt compelled to give freely and accept graciously. Every Christmas decoration and ornament was symbolic and celebrated in its own creation.
The evergreen symbolized eternal life, the mistletoe -- love, the lights -- the light of Christ, red ribbons -- the blood Jesus spilled for us and on and on it went. The world celebrated openly the gift of eternal life.
Father Christmas, Santa Claus, was the greatest symbol of all, he became a symbol of Christ, this man who gave and gave, never expecting anything in return, the true magic of Christmas. He called little children to his knees, as did Jesus Christ, gave them hope for things to come.
Someone once wrote that "Christmas is wonderful and exciting. The music is beautiful, the sounds are gentle and loving. The bell-ringers standing in the cold with their red buckets collecting money for the less fortunate, the shoppers excited about the perfect gift, the carolers singing, children laughing, it is all wonderful. Go where you feel good, fill your homes with sweet traditions, simple ones, ones that bring your family together and promote spending time together and the true Spirit of Christmas will creep into your heart, causing it to swell with love for the stranger and the indigent, the wealthy and the homeless, and especially toward your family and the God we have to thank for so much."
I hope that I've helped you start your holiday shopping list.
Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission. He writes a column every other Saturday.