Did I Say That? What makes a memorable holiday?

As Christmas approaches — this wonderful time of year for Christians, non-Christians and secularists, for the rich, the poor and the middle class, for children and geezers — I have some advice that will make your holiday more pleasant, peaceful and profitable.

Forget what Nat King Cole and Mel Torme said about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Don’t succumb to temptation. Under no circumstances, while you’re wandering through the produce department, buy chestnuts.

Every year I spend at least $50 going from supermarket to grocery store, pursuing the fantasy of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and every year it’s the same sad experience. To quote my wife Sandy, while she was cracking them open, “Rotten … rotten … moldy … rotten!”

Where the heck do they get these chestnuts? Siberia? Shanghai? How can food stores sell chestnuts that no one can eat, except maybe the squirrels hanging out on my deck waiting for a handout, but even they know when something is inedible.

Every Christmas, I go through the same ordeal, whether we roast them on the wood stove or in the toaster oven. The aroma fills the room, the anticipation builds. We hug, we reminisce, we sing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” and we start thinking of Christmases past, until we take the first bite and realize the fantasy far exceeds the reality.

Now, relying on my professionally honed literary skills, I’m going to use the chestnut metaphor to illuminate a larger truth about the holiday. Are you ready? Watch closely or you might miss it: Christmas expectation is like that bag of chestnuts.

Every year I look forward to Christmas — the lights, the decorations, the shopping, the Seven Fishes, the church pageant, the midnight Mass, the snowfall, the carolers, setting up the Christmas village (I mean watching my wife set up the Christmas village), and trimming the tree (I mean watching my wife trim the tree). Christmas is a spectator sport for me.

However, my most ‘unforgettable’ Christmases were these: The year my mother fell down the steps and we spent Christmas Eve in the emergency room. Our first married Christmas when Sandy had a miscarriage. The second Christmas when Sandy was eight months pregnant with our first daughter and we went to Jones’ Tree Farm and she fell in the stream. The year we were 300 miles from home, stranded in a snowstorm, and my father died on Christmas Eve after my nephew’s pageant.

The year there were spiders in the tree and they ran all over when my daughters started putting on the lights. There was so much screaming it could have been Nightmare on Elm Street. The tree ended up on the lawn and I had to go to Walmart on Christmas Eve to buy an artificial tree and new lights.

The year my daughters had a knock-down fight over something so important I can’t remember what it was. My wife was on one side and I was on the other, and everyone pouted all day. The year my daughter Dana made lobsters for the Seven Fishes and everyone was late to the table, so she reheated them in the microwave and they tasted like Gumby. She went into hysterics. In desperation, we forced ourselves to swallow. Lobster was never the same for me. Are you getting depressed? But to me, these are perfect examples of what Christmas is all about. It can’t be all about gifts because I can’t remember a single gift I got over the past 20 years.

Christmas is the celebration for a king born in a manger, and sometimes I wonder how Joseph felt that first Christmas, spending the night in a stable. Did he have high expectations? Was he looking forward to life in a palace? But he had one thing we all need this time of year … hope. Christmas is about joy, but more importantly it’s about hope.

That Christmas Eve my sister was sitting alone in the Emergency Room at midnight after my father died, a young minister walked up to her and asked what was wrong. She told him her father died. He paused a moment and then said, “What a wonderful gift to celebrate Christmas in Heaven.”

Have a hope-filled Christmas — no matter what happens.

Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com.