Christmas in Woodstock

12/30/2005 05:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I used to be a “bah humbug” guy.

When I was kid, Christmas was the time when the radio was invaded by demented trolls who drove out the good music and replaced it with the worst music in the world. The same worst music that they’d tormented me with the previous year and the year before that and before that, on, on backward through recorded time to Marconi and Tesla. Ordinary things, like buying a pair of jeans, became a contest with battling shoppers and it meant paying full retail price. The skating rink was packed. The ski slopes were littered with people and the lift lines were an hour long.

There was desperation as we rushed to the day, full of fear and envy of other people’s lives and gifts. There was depression afterward, with the realization that all those bright expectations of loot and love and family and perfection had not been met. Like thousands of people all having a bad birthday at once. Ho, ho, ho.

So it remained.

Until I became a father and moved to Woodstock, which happened almost simultaneously. My daughter was just 33 days old our first Christmas here. It was cold and wet and we had her all swaddled in blankets and a cap on her head when we went down to the Village Green.

Christmas Eve the center of town is closed.

Santa Claus comes in some secret fashion. Amazingly, the secret is well kept and it really is a surprise. He has come in a stage coach. On an elephant. In a rocket ship. In a flying hippie microbus. The bottom opened up and he repelled down (Santa is usually played these days by the Arbor Barbour).

He is preceded, normally, by elves or clowns and, in recent years, by a band as well.

Once he’s here, he sets up on the Green, surrounded by his helpers. The children line up. Every kid gets a stocking with some candy and fruit and some small toys, coloring books and such. Nobody asks if the kid is from town or from the next town or from out of town. He’s a kid. He’s here. He gets a stocking.

The whole thing is put together by volunteers, centered around the volunteer fire department.

My daughter is seventeen. She isn’t carried in our arms anymore. My son is fourteen. He no longer demands “uppy shoulders.” Still, all of us go to the Green on Christmas Eve.

The clowns wore translucent heads of animals, imaginary and real, illuminated from inside. They were followed by a flatbed tractor trailer. It had a huge crane decorated with lights to look like a guitar. It was so big that the rock band, riding underneath it, looked like dwarfs.

Then, a huge white bird appeared. Translucent, like the clown heads, and softly lit from inside. It was hung on a cable attached to another crane. It had wings that flapped. It was round and quite fat. I thought perhaps it was a duck. But then someone told me it was the bird of peace in the Woodstock logo. I could see how it might be, but to me it was mostly a duck.

Santa climbed out from inside the duck. Or whatever it was.

Then, after some delay, due to crane problems – according to subsequent rumor – he went back in, climbed out the bottom, landed on the giant guitar and did a sort of red suited, white trimmed, white man’s Jimmy Hendrix imitation. While the band continued to play underneath.

Woodstock is a town full of Jews and Buddhists and Wiccans and Whatnots and semi-Hindus and guru followers. I have never heard anyone say a word against Christmas on the Green. Never heard anyone say let’s put some Chanukah in it. Or Kwanzaa or Krishna or Buddha or make him wear a Sikh turban. I’ve never even heard anyone say “Bah Humbug!”

I think it is because it embodies the genuine spirit of Christmas. Not, “shop, shop, shop!” Not “consume, consume, consume.” Not “this is the country of the self-proclaimed followers of the Christ who punishes.”

It is the Christmas of those who want to gather together. Neighbors and friends and strangers. Especially those with children. Who want to give some small token to those children. Not enough to appeal to real greed, but enough so that we all know it’s about giving. It is the Christmas of those who want to gather together, in the dark, in the cold, in depth of winter, with the wind blowing, sometimes with it drizzling, sometimes with the snow falling and stand around patiently, among friends, for an old-fashioned real event. Not a TV event. Not an online event. But some touch of reality that goes back through all the generations that have known summer and winter.

The band played John Lennnon’s song. “A very Merry Christmas. And a happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”