A time to change for the better

Every year, when we asked my father what he wanted for Christmas, it was like trying to get a member of the mob to spill his guts.

“OK, big guy, level with us! Whadya want from Santa? Pajamas? A power saw? A ticket to Vegas? A subscription to Playboy?”

No dice. He wouldn’t talk. He’d sit tightlipped in his Barcalounger, doing crossword puzzles, until finally, after an agonizing interrogation, there was an infinitesimal sign of life and barely looking up from the page, he’d grumble, “Peace and quiet.”

Then he’d ask, “What’s a nine-letter word for doofus?”

I often wondered what good is “peace and quiet"? You can’t grill it. You can’t get drunk on it. You can’t wear it. And you can’t exchange it for a flat-screen TV.

Sure, the house could be loud and raucous. When the dog wasn’t barking and my sisters weren’t quarreling, the neighbors were partying. To tell the truth, “peace” was hard to find because someone was always causing mayhem.

If, as the angels suggested that night in Bethlehem, there was “Peace on Earth,” why couldn’t we have it in our home?

When Christmas morning rolled around, what my father got wasn’t “peace and quiet” but rather slippers, underwear, flannel shirts and any number of gifts that looked like they were the top 10 best-sellers in the JCPenney catalog that year. (My mother nixed the Playboy subscription.) The day after Christmas, they ended up in his closet, still in the boxes.

Now, whenever my kids ask, “Dad, what do you want for Christmas?” I promptly respond, “peace and quiet.” Like father, like son. You see, at this stage in life, the most important thing for me is family peace — although I wouldn’t turn down an unsolicited digital subscription to Playboy for my iPad, but that isn’t going to happen.

I want everyone to get along. I want everyone to sit around the dinner table together, laughing and joking and caring about one another. Even though we’ll never be like those families in Norman Rockwell paintings, I sure as heck don’t want us to be like the creepy families on TV.

My Christmas wish is a simple one — no bickering or backbiting, no sarcasm or text-messaging. Life is too short. Christmas is too special.

I’ve known families afflicted by strife, jealousy and ill will. Brothers and sisters don’t talk, parents and children are estranged, husbands and wives snarl like rabid Rottweilers, and tension and anger hang over the holiday like a winter storm warning.

But Christmas should be a time to heal old hurts, a time to reconcile even if it means you have to be the one to hold out your hand first and say, “Merry Christmas” — without obsessing over who was right and who was wrong in a dispute that occurred 10 years ago. (Some people can’t even remember why they’re angry.)

Christmas should be an occasion for change, change for the better. I often think of that scene in A Christmas Carol when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge his grave and he wails, “I’m too old to change!” As it turned out, he wasn’t too old. It’s never too late.

Christmas should be a time to forget grudges, a time to let go of resentments, a time to forgive, a time for miracles. Those angels knew what they were talking about.

Merry Christmas.

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