Commentary: You Better Watch Out

By Edward P. Noga
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In my young years, the Christmas song that began with “You better watch out,” was the sounding call that Santa was watching everything we were doing and that the list of that song better be filled with more nice things than naughty.

It was a reminder, often underscored by our parents, that Santa was watching everywhere.

Several years back, the Elf on the Shelf picked up the “you better watch out” motif and kept the young ones in check as Christmas drew near. No wonder they flew off the shelves quicker than Santa’s reindeer on Dec. 24.

As I grew older, my circle grew to realize that it’s not what we do to get those special gifts at Christmas. Rather it’s what we do to bring our gifts and the spirit of the season to others.

Yes, it’s important to let others know how much we love them. But it’s just as important to bring the love of the season to others, including those we don’t even know.

I have the feeling that, in all time-tested religions, there are levels of understanding as we grow in faith. There are religious realities that unfold as we grow older. Growing up brings us new and important components in our understanding of the mystical experience of religious reality.

I am trying not to get too philosophical. Maybe I should share a story here. Yes, a Christmas story.

 At the turn of this century, when my two nieces and my nephew were in grade and high school, I was 15 years into my tenure at St. Patrick Church. One of the first families I encountered there was Gary, Theresa and their three children.

Both adults were involved in teaching and guidance work in area high schools. They had a great way of reaching young people and were enthusiastic about their roles in enabling young people to reach their goals.

Basically, they were fun to be with. One winter, Youngstown State University decorated the trees in the inner core of its campus with miniature white lights. The trees along the winding sidewalks made a great statement of the season.

One evening I had my nieces and nephew at Grandma’s for some holiday treats.  Gary, Theresa and their three stopped at Mom’s.

After finishing some ham-and-cheese sandwiches and Christmas cookies, the three of us adults and the children decided to head to campus and take a walk through the grounds.

Wouldn’t you know it that snow flurries were in abundance that evening?  Oh, what a sight and what an evening!

The faces of the young ones were filled with awe and reflected their
excitement. The campus glistened and the three adults, well beyond the
children’s ages, were as enthralled as they.

Following the YSU trek, we drove out to the site of Gary and Theresa’s future new home and shot off a trunk full of fireworks at the cul de sac, which a year later had houses around the dead end.

The bright moon with the snow falling that night made an absolutely phenomenal backdrop.

It was the stuff of a made-for-TV movie.

But that’s half the story. The other half concerns one of Gary’s many hobbies – wood carving.

One year, Gary gave me a hand-carved Santa for Christmas.

“You better watch out!”

The picture below tells the rest of the story. For several years, a hand-carved Santa came my way and many of them have their own story about the year he carved them.

Many who celebrate Christmas are always more than willing to share a story or two about one, two or many of their Christmas decorations that are carefully placed every year. Taking them out of storage and their year-long wrap conjures up when they were purchased or received as a gift.

There is always a story behind them. And the story of this one is as close in my memory as if it happened yesterday.

As I unpack my Santas each year, somehow my mind automatically transports me to that great evening when the sights, sounds and warmth of the holiday season captivated us.

We should add a couple of words to the opening verse of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”: “You better watch out”  – for others.

This is the time of year when taking the time to write a note, send a small gift, make a phone call or reach out to someone we think about a lot but have lost track of can really make the difference in someone’s holiday.

During these past months, we have made great strides in keeping in touch as best we can, given the worldwide situation we are in.

May this season point us in the direction of new stories of hope, peace and consideration for others.