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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

Finding the Christmas spirit in the most unlikely of places

Santa sits with his arms around a boy in a blue plaid shirt and glasses and a woman in a red sweater. A Christmas tree is decorated and lit on the side.
Josh Boose
Ideastream Public Media
Grandma Boose celebrating Christmas with her family this year

A few days remain before Christmas and until last weekend, I was still searching for the Christmas spirit.

To me, the Christmas spirit is that tingle of joy and exhilaration during this time of year. Sometimes it's prompted by a decorated storefront. Other times it's a small gesture from someone that makes a big impact. The feeling can sometimes be so overwhelming the need to spread it becomes contagious. At least that's always how I perceived it, but maybe I've watched one too many made-for-TV Christmas movies during the 1980s.

Being a journalist doesn’t always propel the Christmas spirit into my soul. It’s difficult to experience waves of holiday cheer and glittery good tidings while producing stories on Cleveland’s increasing homicide rate and the growing need for basic human necessities in communities around Ohio, all while waiting for upticks in the flu or, God forbid, another deadly virus that could do us all in.

The popular carols and television specials from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s are often the catalysts that produce a holiday vigor in my soul. I’m a sucker for Rudolph, Hermie and that poor Charlie-in-a-Box. Even with Berl Ives as the musical backdrop, it didn’t develop a tingle or two in me this year. I even attended a performance of "A Christmas Carol" at Great Lakes Theatre. By the end, I sided more with Scrooge. Ba, humbug!

Christmas has become such a materialistic industry, with Santa delivering shiny objects to the "haves" while the "have nots" often go without. It would easy not to believe in Santa's goodness.

Just as I succumbed to the idea I would never feel the same bouts of jubilance as in 1988 when Santa Claus delivered Pee Wee’s Playhouse and accompanying action figures under my Christmas tree, I got news that would cancel Christmas altogether. My grandfather passed away.

My family and I were not shocked by the news; my grandpa had been ill for some time. But how does one really prepare for a member of the family to die? My grandfather lived a good 86 years, and I knew that celebrating his life would be the goal as my large family began congregating to Ohio to mourn.

My grandfather was buried Saturday, the day before the annual family Christmas party was scheduled. My cousins and I assumed the party would be canceled. To my surprise, my aunt sent out a group text prior to calling hours indicating my grandma insisted the party go on. If this is what my grandma wanted, I couldn’t argue.

At the party, we exchanged gifts as usual. We ate roast beef sandwiches as usual. We even took the annual family photo, the first one in history without my grandpa. There were some tears, but more laughter and reminiscing than anything.

Ever the observer, I sat and watched my newly widowed grandma anxiously arrange gifts by the Christmas tree as the crowd of 24 great grandchildren quickly grew around her. The smile on my grandma’s face never fell. I felt a tingle. I watched in pure reverence as my grandma sat strongly next to Santa, handing out goodies and gifts. She faced the adversity and sadness with love and hope.

In prayer, before eating dinner, my uncle reminded everyone the annual party happened to fall on the third Sunday of Advent; a representation of joy leading to Christmas. The same joy the shepherds experienced when the angel told them Christ was to be born, as told by the parish priest at mass. Maybe the Christmas spirit this year was summoned by my grandpa and the celebration of his life conjured a spirit of good will and joy. Whatever it was, the tingle I got watching the strength it took for life to go on was unexpected.

My family found joy in my grandfather’s life, the life he gave us and the lives that carry on in his name. In that joy I found a glimmer of the Christmas spirit, a replenished version, found in the most unlikely of places and times.

What a gift.

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Josh Boose is associate producer for newscasts at Ideastream Public Media.