Scarp: Making spirits bright the greater holiday act - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Scarp: Making spirits bright the greater holiday act

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013 4:15 pm

I am occasionally asked whether I decorate my house for Christmas.

Holiday decorations are beautiful indeed and in many cases even inspiring, and who am I to be against them?

Well, I’m not against them. But I answer quite truthfully: No, I don’t decorate.

A bachelor, I’m really not home often enough to enjoy looking at it all. Besides (I say with a wink), I transferred my adornment rights to some friends of mine who spend months each year on their outdoor holiday light show.

If you’ve never seen it, I say it’s worth at least 10 or 12 other people’s home displays, and if just one person finds his or her way to their house after quickly passing by my darkened abode, my sacrifice will have been justified, indeed.

And so my relationship to yuletide decorating is like the one I have with gift giving. I love to give presents, but I do not enjoy the experience of going to get them.

Is this thinking straight? Should I appreciate what allows me to give as much as the giving itself?

To reconcile this I reflect on the life of the carpenter of Nazareth whose birth is at the heart of the festivities. He taught love and encouraged its expression to the poor and to those with whom we don’t agree or even don’t like, or those with whom we’re not entirely comfortable speaking.

I regret to say I’m in this last category regarding children.

If there are awards for people who are great with kids, I’m never going to get past the early rounds. I certainly don’t dislike young children. I just don’t relate well enough to them where it would be much of a good time for either of us. By middle-school age I’ve noticed they relate better to me, a guy who always felt he was better with conversation than kite-flying or game-playing.

And yet — call it the irony of fate — on occasion I’ve been in the position to portray Santa Claus in one of the many situations this time of year when the real, actual St. Nick is very busy finishing up the toy list and sleigh tune-up, and he relies on a bunch of us actors to fill in for him as helpers.

One year it was for kids in my mother’s neighborhood, and another it was for seniors at a nursing facility, using a suit that had been in my family’s possession ever since our next-door neighbor, an Irishman with a brogue, played the part so well that even I, a fairly savvy 4-year-old, never figured out it was him.

More recently I’ve been leading “Jingle Bells” for children in home situations so difficult they must be separated from their parents, even to the point where, sadly, they must spend Christmas time in a shelter.

There’s something about the red outfit with the white trim, the beard, the cap, the big belt that transforms you from an anxious adult into a reasonable facsimile of the jolly old elf himself. You start speaking more deeply, laughing more heartily.

The bright, joyous looks on the children’s faces fill your veins with soothing hot chocolate.

But just as quickly, you realize that candy canes only go so far in such cases. You want their smiles to last forever, because you know that once Christmas is over, real life returns, despite all the best efforts of the saintly folks who run those shelters.

You also realize how fortunate you are, how fortunate just about everyone you know is, by comparison. You wish that your friends who complain just a bit too much about their issues and drama for your patience to last through could spend a few minutes talking with a child who looks eagerly for your smile and nod of approval when he or she confirms how good he or she has been this year.

No, I don’t decorate my house with garland and lights, tinsel and ornaments; I don’t even have a tree. Kids who pass by my place are never overcome with holiday cheer. But for me the greater joy comes from making spirits bright. You know, that all-too-brief feeling of satisfaction you get after dropping a buck into a red kettle and the bell-ringer says with sincerity, “God bless you,” even though he’s said it 1,000 times?

Like that.

I’m blessed, all right. Enough to be the right fit for a Santa suit and letting a kid feel happy just long enough to count, which is what the carpenter from Nazareth had in mind all along.

• Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Reach him at

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