There are some things that you cannot hope to duplicate.
Being in love for the first time hovers near the top of the list. Same for leaving home . . . realizing that each step takes you further from the innocence of your past, and deeper into the complexity of your future.
That second thing tends to trouble me this time of year, when I would give anything to see the world through the eyes of a child, long before commitment and responsibility became a daily mantra for stability and success.
A chance to reconnect with the simplicity of merriment, to celebrate for the sheer joy it brings to both heart and soul.
I’ve tried to rekindle the spirit by binge watching the Great British Baking Show, mixed in with a generous portion of Hallmark Christmas movies.
I went so far as to capture a print screen of Meisterburger Burgermeister sitting in his wheelchair, freezing the precise moment he cries, “I love Yo-Yos!”
Even snuck in some Christmas Blend on wayward trips into town. Didn’t work.
Then we started spending Sundays at the Clermont Farmers Market.
While the story on its own wouldn’t classify as an official miracle, it did re-establish a belief, at least for me, that the holidays are about more than just giving . . . and that the peace I’ve been seeking is found in receiving.
Glimmers of Hope
There have been occasions when the sugar plums danced in my head, such as winter break during my freshman year at the Coast Guard Academy.
It was a brutal first semester that had me counting down the days, hours, minutes, and nanoseconds until my flight departed from Hartford, Connecticut. I envisioned myself strapped into my seat, taking only the third airplane ride of my life, but heading west . . . my favorite direction . . . and home for the holidays.
Then I missed the flight.
Having spent the night in Bradley International Airport, I was now on a connecting flight through Chicago. To everyone’s surprise, the crew began offering margaritas to enhance the holiday spirit, southwest style.
I was quite merry and a bright shade of Christmas red when I stumbled, um . . . stepped off the plane in Tucson three hours later.
But that trip was a standout memory, a homecoming that carried me through not only the holidays, but the rest of my Academy career.
Fast forward to my time spent as the Pastry Chef of a high-end Country Club in Central Florida.
Our first son was still a toddler, that wonderfully innocent age well before impassioned dreams, anxious curiosity, and a laundry list of wishes would occupy every waking moment leading up to the Big Day.
We had managed to crawl out from an emotional and financial abyss created by the loss of our restaurant, and with this position, I began to regain a sense of esteem and self-confidence.
Each day from Thanksgiving through Christmas featured some sort of holiday celebration, covering all faiths and reasons to believe. I was immersed in creativity, incorporating every shade from the holiday color wheel to generate fanciful pasties and desserts.
“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was on a mental loop, guiding expression and providing a glimpse into how I wanted to feel.
Not just during the holidays, but every day for the rest of my life.
What followed would be an extended career in the hospitality industry, notorious for its commitment to selfless service while inspiring others to create magical and memorable moments.
Not to say that the connection to a more holistic appreciation for the holidays was missing . . . perhaps ‘overshadowed’ would be a more appropriate sentiment. I was consistently surrounded by a loving family and a ton of good people.
But when I examine the span of time following my graduation from the Academy, any number of “D” words could describe my mindset heading into December: deployed, distracted, disinterested, driven, dedicated, dead-tired, dependable, delirious, etc.
There were random glimmers of hope captured within glimpses of merriment.
But the next day was always Monday, and it was back to work, planning and strategizing an approach to the New Year and beyond.
The clock never stopped ticking.
Merriment on Montrose
Google ‘Montrose Street’ and you’ll have 35 million options to choose from in 0.86 seconds. . . not bad.
Fortunately for us, there is only one we call home.
This year, the magic and merriment of Montrose Street in Clermont, Florida, has helped rekindle a very personal and emotional connection with the true spirit of the holiday season.
I have previously written about the power of community and the role this hamlet has played in a resurgent appreciation for small town values and relationships.
While the community stages several cyclical events in and around Montrose this time of year . . . Wine Walks, Holiday Tree Lighting, a Parade, etc. . . . it has been participating in the weekly Farmers Market that serves as a continuation of that awareness.
Although it didn’t start out on an emotional high note.
Following a night full of baking, I was riding the adrenaline of mass production, anticipating the big splash that was certain to occur within minutes of unveiling our delicious pastries and scones.
It was almost two hours into our initial event before we sold our first product.
I immediately fell into a familiar pattern of feeling distracted and anxious, calculating how much it was costing us to operate, totally abandoning our original intention and ignoring the reasons we decided to participate in the first place.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to depression . . . we made friends.
We began connecting with our neighboring vendors, many of them seasoned through the ups and downs that trace the overall growth of the event.
These relationships quickly became the core of the experience, adding to the overall spirit of the season through a collective and definitive appreciation for each other that extended to each patron that stopped by their booths.
Survey the scene on any given Sunday, and you can almost picture the bubbles of positivity and optimism hovering above the crowd. Patrons who have visited our tent have been everything you could hope for . . . gracious, complimentary, and kind to an almost uncomfortable degree.
Whether it’s posing with Hawaiian Elvis in 86-degree weather or sharing appreciation for the talents and craftsmanship of local artisans, the lingering impression is more than pragmatic.
Love, Love, Love
Life is meant to be lived to a soundtrack.
We’ve taken to listening to the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” on the Sunday morning drive into downtown, embracing the preeminent refrain of “love, love, love.”
The feeling experienced in our first foray deepened over the next three weeks.
Anna, forever my conscience and trusted seer, noticed my diminished trepidation and offered, “This experience isn’t about aggression and giving. It’s about taking the time to pause, being comfortable enough to receive.”
This year has brought me back to simplicity, to appreciate what Christmas represents once again.
Merriment isn’t defined by activity and chaos, an over-extended obligation to give without a reciprocating opportunity to receive. It exists in those moments reserved for reverent introspection when you open your heart and allow the world VIP access to your deepest hopes and dreams.
It is then, and only then, that you are ready to receive true joy and happiness, granted with grace and humility so you may share it with those around you.
Peace of mind may not be a blessed sacrament, but it is the benefit of rediscovering merriment . . . on Montrose Street, or wherever you call home.
This is Tall Tim and I am Wishing You and Yours a Very Merry Christmas!