Some Christ­mas chest­nuts re­main burned in mem­ory

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Opinion - For­mer Stam­ford Ad­vo­cate and Green­wich Time Ed­i­tor Joe Pisani is a Bridge­port na­tive who grew up in Shel­ton and now re­sides in Or­ange. He can be reached at joef­[email protected]­hoo.com.

As Christ­mas ap­proaches — this won­der­ful time of year for Chris­tians, non-Chris­tians and sec­u­lar­ists, for the rich, the poor and the mid­dle class, for chil­dren and geezers — I have some ad­vice that will make your hol­i­day more pleas­ant, peace­ful and prof­itable.

For­get what Nat King Cole and Mel Torme said about chest­nuts roast­ing on an open fire. Don’t suc­cumb to temp­ta­tion. Un­der no cir­cum­stances, while you’re wan­der­ing through the pro­duce depart­ment, buy chest­nuts.

Ev­ery year I spend at least $50 go­ing from su­per­mar­ket to gro­cery store, pur­su­ing the fan­tasy of chest­nuts roast­ing on an open fire, and ev­ery year it’s the same sad ex­pe­ri­ence. To quote my wife Sandy, while she was crack­ing them open, “Rot­ten ... rot­ten ... moldy ... rot­ten!”

Where the heck do they get these chest­nuts? Siberia? Shang­hai? How can food stores sell chest­nuts that no one can eat, ex­cept maybe the squir­rels hang­ing out on my deck wait­ing for a hand­out, but even they know when some­thing is ined­i­ble.

Ev­ery Christ­mas, I go through the same or­deal, whether we roast them on the wood stove or in the toaster oven. The aroma fills the room, the an­tic­i­pa­tion builds. We hug, we rem­i­nisce, we sing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Rein­deer,” and we start think­ing of Christ­mases past, un­til we take the first bite and re­al­ize the fan­tasy far ex­ceeds the re­al­ity.

Now, re­ly­ing on my pro­fes­sion­ally honed lit­er­ary skills, I’m go­ing to use the chest­nut metaphor to il­lu­mi­nate a larger truth about the hol­i­day. Are you ready? Watch closely or you might miss it: Christ­mas ex­pec­ta­tion is like that bag of chest­nuts.

Ev­ery year I look for­ward to Christ­mas — the lights, the dec­o­ra­tions, the shop­ping, the Seven Fishes, the church pageant, the mid­night Mass, the snow­fall, the car­ol­ers, set­ting up the Christ­mas vil­lage (I mean watch­ing my wife set up the Christ­mas vil­lage), and trim­ming the tree (I mean watch­ing my wife trim the tree). Christ­mas is a spec­ta­tor sport for me.

How­ever, my most “un­for­get­table” Christ­mases were these: The year my mother fell down the steps and we spent Christ­mas Eve in the emer­gency room. Our first mar­ried Christ­mas when Sandy had a mis­car­riage. The sec­ond Christ­mas when Sandy was eight months preg­nant with our first daugh­ter and we went to Jones’ Tree Farm and she fell in the stream. The year we were 300 miles from home, stranded in a snow­storm, and my fa­ther died on Christ­mas Eve af­ter my nephew’s pageant.

The year there were spi­ders in the tree and they ran all over when my daugh­ters started putting on the lights. There was so much scream­ing it could have been “Night­mare on Elm Street.” The tree ended up on the lawn and I had to go to Wal­mart on Christ­mas Eve to buy an ar­ti­fi­cial tree and new lights.

The year my daugh­ters had a knock-down fight over some­thing so im­por­tant I can’t re­mem­ber what it was. My wife was on one side and I was on the other, and ev­ery­one pouted all day. The year my daugh­ter Dana made lob­sters for the Seven Fishes and ev­ery­one was late to the ta­ble, so she re­heated them in the mi­crowave and they tasted like Gumby. She went into hys­ter­ics. In des­per­a­tion, we forced our­selves to swal­low. Lob­ster was never the same for me. Are you get­ting de­pressed? But to me, these are per­fect ex­am­ples of what Christ­mas is all about. It can’t be all about gifts be­cause I can’t re­mem­ber a sin­gle gift I got over the past 20 years.

Christ­mas is the cel­e­bra­tion for a king born in a manger, and some­times I won­der how Joseph felt that first Christ­mas, spend­ing the night in a stable. Did he have high ex­pec­ta­tions? Was he look­ing for­ward to life in a palace? But he had one thing we all need this time of year ... hope. Christ­mas is about joy, but more im­por­tantly it’s about hope.

That Christ­mas Eve my sis­ter was sit­ting alone in the Emer­gency Room at mid­night af­ter my fa­ther died, a young min­is­ter walked up to her and asked what was wrong. She told him her fa­ther died. He paused a mo­ment and then said, “What a won­der­ful gift to cel­e­brate Christ­mas in Heaven.”

Have a hope-filled Christ­mas — no mat­ter what hap­pens.

Now, re­ly­ing on my pro­fes­sion­ally honed lit­er­ary skills, I’m go­ing to use the chest­nut metaphor to il­lu­mi­nate a larger truth about the hol­i­day. Are you ready? Watch closely or you might miss it: Christ­mas ex­pec­ta­tion is like that bag of chest­nuts.

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