When my grandson graduated from 5th grade, his school continued with a tradition unique to that building: parents and friends were encouraged to gather in front of the school to “clap out” the students. I was there in 2015 when Xavion marched with his classmates between a balloon-strung line of gleeful celebrants who applauded, cheered and sprayed the new middle schoolers with silly string, an appropriately joyful rite of celebration of new, young steps into the future.
Another appropriately joyful celebration was recently shared with me when I attended the 54th Christmas concert at the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Beech Grove. I was there with this publication’s Paula Nicewanger, at the invitation of Norma and Virgil Dollar. Susie and Gary Schoenfeld joined us in the pews, where I sat happily tapping my foot, nodding my head, mouthing the words to “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and humming to the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “The Messiah.” When young people holding lit tapers encircled the pews in choral support of the adult choir, I sang softly with them. At the end of the service, I wanted to go home, light a fat candle and march through my neighborhood, caroling to the houses. I did not. But my neighborhood in Southern Indiana became accustomed, each Christmas season, to the sight and sound of me trolling the short streets, singing carols. I coerced my daughter into joining me, and her friends soon followed behind us. It wasn’t long before we were welcomed with hot chocolate.
In the early 1970s I lived in Los Angeles, California, and my bride and I joined two friends in line outside of a TV studio door, dressed in costumes designed to get us onto “Let’s Make A Deal.” We four were selected to go inside, but only one of us was chosen to compete. We sat in the audience as Monty Hall gave our friend Ann some choices and groaned when she got “zonked,” but we celebrated with her when she got a boatload of consolation prizes, including a fur coat. And that much fun was had on the whimsical idea of “let’s dress up in silly costumes and see if we can get on a TV show.”
We come now to the end of the year, slogging slump-shouldered toward the end and the beginning. We have had a rough year, and some of the slings and arrows of our outrageous fortune have delivered emotional wounds that need care. I’ve written before that I prefer to hear Nina Simone’s upbeat delivery of “And now, the end is near,” rather than Frank Sinatra’s mournful reminiscence. Her exuberant cry of having done it her way is punctuated by a driving bongo beat that makes me want to stand up and dance. And that dancing may be just what we all need as a healing balm. Let joy juice up the limbs, and fling away the dour days with a spritely jig. My private dances may not rival Tina Turner’s but the holiday season is one of the many occasions I use as an excuse to sing out loud, to share some unscripted joy with friends and strangers. But it is also an occasion to celebrate the possibilities of new delights.
Let’s dress up in whimsical costumes just for fun, and clap out the old year doing the happy dance that Charlie Brown’s dog does. I will fling up my arms and boom out “Joy To The World,” and look around for hopeful recruits and we can dance into tomorrow as Snoopy does, in happy, happy, joy, joy.
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