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Embracing the Christmas spirit

Jamakaya, Contributing writer

I’m a sucker for the holiday season. I love the carols and cookies and sentimental movies. I love Christmas cards and gift wrap and parties.

I love driving around late in the evening on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, looking at lighting displays in people’s yards. The humble efforts can fill me with as much wonder as the elaborate displays, especially if a nice blanket of snow makes everything glisten.

I even like Salvation Army bell ringers. I never give their anti-gay “army” a cent, but why be churlish to volunteers and low-paid workers cheerfully braving the elements? I always wish them a “Merry Christmas.”

One of my favorite holiday memories is meeting Rosemary Clooney, the singer-actress who played the older of the Haynes Sisters in the movie White Christmas.

Clooney was in Milwaukee for her Christmas show in the 1980s. I met her at the Grand Avenue Mall. I found myself standing beside her in a shop as she asked the clerk to call her a cab. It was unmistakably Rosie Clooney, a big lady with a wonderful, deep voice.

I asked “Miss Clooney” if I could carry her bags and we waited for the cab on Wisconsin Avenue for a few minutes. She took my hand seemingly to shake it, but then held it between both of her hands the whole time. She thanked me for the assist with her bags, asked if I was coming to the show and said she was tickled to meet a younger fan.

I will never forget how large and how warm her hands were. It was easy to be star struck. She was such a class act.

Like many people, I have some unhappy holiday memories, most of them stemming from family members with alcohol and drug problems. I try to be supportive of people in recovery, but experience has taught me it’s OK to detach from them and even to steer clear of people with drug issues entirely. No one should have to endure holidays from hell.

In the era of texting and Facebook, I’ve gone retro and sent holiday cards to friends through the U.S. Postal Service. It’s a pleasure to choose just the right card and pen a personal message, and recipients seem touched by the old-fashioned gesture.

Last minute holiday gifts: In my experience, tickets to local theater productions and gift cards for restaurants always are greeted with squeals of delight. It keeps money circulating in the local economy and gives recipients something to look forward to as we Badgers face the long winter months that follow the holiday season.

Many nonprofit groups sell cards and calendars whose proceeds go to environmental, peace and domestic violence programs. Buying these items is great way to increase the impact of your gift.

For end-of-year charitable donations, I recommend giving to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters or the Peace Education Project of Peace Action Wisconsin. Your donation will support services and education to counter the right-wing tide sweeping our state and national governments.

Amid the holiday rush, stay safe, make time for yourself, and tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Happy holidays!