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Experiencing Christmas in the big city

December 20, 2012 - Diane Speer
Much as I relish Christmas in Alpena, there's something magical about experiencing a bit of the Christmas season in a big city. Thanks to a family wedding last weekend in San Francisco, my husband and I had the opportunity to take in the holiday splendor and the hustle-bustle of last minute shoppers that only a big city can afford. We hoofed it from our hotel to Union Square where the celebrated Macy's Christmas tree was larger and shinier than I'd thought possible. Along the route, we were greeted by mammoth-size Christmas bulbs (I looked like a dwarf standing next to them), another glittering tree of astronomical proportions inside Neiman Marcus and plenty of street musicians playing gay holiday carols. Yep, things sure seemed bigger and brighter in the city. Then there was the quirky side, too. Like SantaCon. Up until this point in my life, I'd never even heard of this seasonal celebration where party goers don Santa-themed costumes and embark on a pub crawl of their neighborhood bars. Apparently this event is held on the same day in big cities all over the world. The Santa wannabes we encountered in San Francisco were a lively, if not staggering, lot who came in all shapes and sizes, plus varying amounts of red dress (think skimpy and non-North Pole-like). And who wouldn't smile at a Santa clad from head to toe in blue? We came across this character in front of the Nike store near Union Square, where lots of folks were pausing to get their photos taken with him and his oversized shoe. Or how about the juxtaposition of ice skaters young and old alike twirling around a chilly rink ringed in palm trees festooned with Christmas lights? Glittering palm trees in winter - now that was a definite smiler for this Northern Michigan gal. Of course, despite all the cheerful sights and sounds, it was difficult to not also see the underbelly side of the city. Sleeping in door ways, huddled on park benches and pushing shopping carts crammed high with their life's belongings were the city's disenfranchised and homeless. They served as a very stark reminder that Christmas is not the stuff of bright lights and shiny love for many people in the world today. In the face of such sadness, it is only when I think about the essence of the Christmas story, of how the Christ child born in squalor 2,000 years ago knew rejection, poverty and pain, but who still overcame the world to teach us about love and saving grace, then and only then can I maintain my sense of wonder and hope in the season.


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