Whether your Christmas celebration focuses on religious ceremonies, secular observances, or pieces of both, tradition means a lot. And now, six years after hanging it up, I’m reminded of one small Christmas ritual whenever people ask me what I miss most now that I’m retired from the newspaper.
Some people tell me they don’t believe I’ve actually left. I do keep my hand in, primarily by writing this column plus other articles on special events and projects I’m passionate about, like the Lyric Theatre.
Anyway, I actually miss a lot of things, but what do I miss “the most”?
Possibilities abound. I recall times when the staff was required to fully mobilize its efforts. Those included recurring events like the Brown County Youth Fair in January, high school and college football season, plus annual issues like progress editions and visitors’ guides. For each, we stretched our resources and tackled the challenge. The following year, the challenge was not only to do it again, but also to do it even better.
As is the case whenever we reflect on the past, it seems to me that the most rewarding times involve confronting a major task and successfully completing it. Frankly, the day-to-day process of creating and producing a newspaper is a big enough challenge by itself. But when special projects such as the ones listed above were added, we had to up our game.
After several years, the annual cycle of local news becomes quite familiar. The last half of the calendar year in particular can become frenzied. Football is huge in Texas, and preparations begin during the summer. That’s followed with covering the games, additional sports, an avalanche of academic and extracurricular school activities, and fund-raisers. From there, it’s a sprint through Thanksgiving and into Christmas — where we find ourselves right now.
Long days across many months came crashing to a halt when the final newspaper before Christmas was put to bed. The pressroom was a buzz of activity. Carriers waited at the loading dock. Meanwhile, our news, advertising, and business office employees had already scattered for the holiday. Often, we had produced at least two days’ editions of the newspaper since arriving for work that morning. The last press run of the evening was timed so we could have Christmas Day off.
Finally, the race to the finish line was over. Our work was done, and everyone had disappeared to observe their individual Christmas traditions. Previously busy phones were silent. The hectic yet purposeful pace maintained until a few minutes earlier was stilled. A lone security light and power lights on computers barely illuminated the open-concept office.
The Christmas rush was over. Yet, I lingered.
On any given evening, the last person out of the office had a checklist. Lights. Locks. Coffee pot. But on Christmas Eve, our eerily quiet and dark office merited one final look-around.
“Calm” isn’t a word that often describes a newspaper office, but the phrase “all is calm” in the little town of Bethlehem did come to mind. Meanwhile, those monitor lights on computers whose screens had switched off sparkled like pinpoints in the darkness — not unlike stars in the sky on the first Christmas.
An odd comparison, to be sure, but you had to be in a Christmas frame of mind. And I was.
If Christmas means anything, it means finding a miracle in a most unexpected place. And I did.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.