The Things that Matter

30 Nov, 2010

by Julie Ferris

I very comfortably sit in the camp that holiday music on the airwaves beginning on Thanksgiving Day is a Martha Stewart-style Good Thing. All of the kitcshy pieces of holiday spirit may, to some, seem commercial and not the point, but to many, they’re just a conduit to the real merry.  

I was at the Pfister when its holiday traditions kicked off, but apparently I was not first in line. Rebecca, harbinger of holiday spirit and antler-clad, held that coveted spot.  When asked about her antlers, Rebecca very politely informed me that they are not her only piece of fabricated, furry cheer. She has alternating pieces of headgear to help bring the holidays home. Why, she started wearing her elf ears more than two weeks ago! She was more offended that I didn’t immediately recognize her as the most dutiful holiday reveler because of her coveted space as first in line to see the Man in Red than she was at my astonishment that she dressed as a reindeer.  

Rebecca the Reindeer, first in line for Santa.

Rebecca wasn’t alone in her reindeer headwear, nor was she alone in her spirit. All the accoutrement of the holidays was present: lots of red sweaters, Santa hats, candy canes, holiday songs, decorated cookies, eggnog and eager children.

Something else was present that night at the Pfister, however. If all the signs and symbols of the holiday were there, reaching out to draw people into a more visceral type of holiday joy, another important symbol made it into the hands of a few.

One of the revelers and I were talking about “that man over there”—and it wasn’t Santa. A local Medal of Honor winner was sharing in the tree lighting ceremony with his family. His story comes coupled with a distinctive coin that he hands out to those who ask. The coin is just a stand in for the honor, service, gratitude and meaning wrapped up in this prestigious recognition of courageous service.

One of the Pfister’s security staff came up to me late in the tree lighting ceremony. Together, we surveyed all the reindeer, elves, Santas and more who, bedazzled in their best holiday get-ups, were posing before the magnificent tree to be photographed. He too, had spoken to the military hero and also received a coin to represent all that a conversation with a true hero might mean. As a former military man himself, he understood the meaning wrapped in this one thing.

So I suddenly have a new appreciation for things. I laughed at dear Rebecca’s antlers—we all did. They were charming and lighthearted. But they stood in for much more meaning. The meaning of a young child waiting for Santa, the expectation-filled holiday, the routines of family life at this time of year—all indescribable passions and feelings not easily captured or understood in words, so antlers had to suffice.

The same is true for our encounters with a Medal of Honor winner. It is far too hard to articulate the sorts of pride, empathy, praise, responsibility and respect we may feel for them. For the veteran, it may be beyond words to fully describe the trials in courage it took to be nominated for such an honor. So we use things—a notable coin that veterans the world over recognize—to denote these indescribable feelings.

So I’m committed to tuning in to all my things right now: holiday music on the radio, the smell of evergreen, secret family recipes and the aging family heirloom ornaments on my tree. It’s ok to let things have meaning, especially if you take the time to share it.

About the author

Julie Ferris

Julie is a devout Iowa Hawkeye fan despite her new Wisconsin roots, loves to read and is a sucker for good creme brulee and bad puns.

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