I am not typically a holiday person. My socially phobic nature would have me out of costume at Halloween, staying in New Year’s Eve, and away from the crowds on the Fourth of July if it weren’t for a wife who drags me out.
Somehow, this all changes at Christmas. Instead of dragged down, I’m somehow energized by it. I love everything about it. My winter doldrums and seasonal affective disorder always lifts for a few weeks, until it comes crashing back down each January.
You may have noticed the festive, yet thematically incongruous snow on my blog. I have bad snow nostalgia. I love peppermint flavored hot chocolate, I love the smell of Christmas trees. I love decorations. I love candy canes and fruitcake that no one will eat. I love the myths of Santa, elves, flying reindeer, sleighs, and toy factories. I delight in certain feature films that others abhor. I do really hate shopping, but like the idea of Christmas gifts. In this regard, the internet is truly my friend.
And yet, in all of this I feel a certain undercurrent of guilt. For those who are lonely, greiving lost loved ones, whose families evoke painful memories of trauma, neglect, or abuse, or who live in squalor, Christmas can be the most unhappy of times. The holidays are associated with an annual spike in both depression and suicide.
Furthermore, many, many people complain of the busyness and stress accompanying the holiday. Many of us are guilty of over packing our schedules at this time of year. Christmas becomes about anxiety and aggravation.
I have fond memories of my mom’s baking and candy making this time of year, when we would leave plates of food on neighbors doorsteps, ring the doorbell, and flee away in the snow. I doubt my mother memories are as fond. She was a perfectionist. She always overdid it. As wonderful as it was, it was still compelled by guilt over an ideal, more than it was a labor of love.
Finally, Christmas is an annual exercise in consumerism. It has become such a terribly commercialized time, central to our economy. There are many merchants who count of the Christmas rush to meet their bottom line or even to feed their families for the next year.
Christmas has also become embroiled in somewhat of a cultural war, even if overblown. To celebrate Christmas is to exclude Jews, atheists (I suppose), Buddhists, and Hindus. As one who believes Christ was a gift to the whole human family, this saddens me.
There is a certain irony that the celebration of a Christian holy day can be muted by cries for tolerance. Nevertheless, nothing at all in the spirit of Christmas should ever lead to the type of vitriolic displays seen here in the so-called “Christmas Wars”. These exchanges have a way of escalating beyond reason and getting ugly quickly.
As much as parents delight in a child’s excitement at Christmas, the truth is much of that excitement at Christmas is really just unabashed greed. It is the beginning of a lifetime training in becoming a cog in the capitalist machinery that depends on our consumption to create wealth. It is the precursor to presidents encouraging us to save the country from terrorism by going to the mall and shopping.
So why do I like Christmas so much, when I can see so much wrong? I think the answer lies in a sort of Pavlovian conditioning. It is the singing of Christmas carols and sharing with neighbors and family that I have felt the most genuine connection with others that I will ever feel. These songs are where the spirit first spoke to me in a manner that a 8 year old nephew of mine describe this way, “ you know how when you drink hot chocolate, and your chest feels warm as it goes down? That’s how those songs make me feel.” (PS, thanks so much for sharing, I love you sis.)
During my medical training, I have had the opportunity to go caroling in inner city neighborhoods that have never known such a tradition. The sparkle this brought to the eye of recipients is a memory I will never forget. It never occurred to me before that so much of our culture and tradition is tied to class, that to be deprived of money and time often also means deprivation of holiday traditions and celebration.
These songs are what has made the savior real and palpable and a force for good in my life. These songs are a source of strength for me. I have come to associate Christmas with giving. It is a time that charities across the US see a swell in donations.
For me, Christmas is not so much a time about becoming a consumer as it is about becoming Santa, someone whose entire purpose is to give to others. Christmas is a time when Peace on Earth seems at least a little more tangible. More than anything, Christmas for me is inextricably tied with him whose coming to Earth I celebrate and honor.
It is when I take the time to participate in this, that I feel a swing in my step and an elevation in my soul. It is this feeling that has rubbed off into the snow, the cocoa, and elves, flying reindeer, odd animated stories, fir trees, fruitcake and cookies by association, like dog saliva to the ringing of a bell. It is this feeling that has made me into a true Christmas junkie.
For those who are suffering this Christmas season, It has also helped me to remember him who came to take upon him our sufferings and sorrows. He is one who knows and came into the world, suffered, and died that all of us may one day be healed. I firmly believe there will come a day when we will be reunited with those we lost, rifts in families and in our very souls will eventually be healed by love and forgiveness, and sufferings will be no more for eternity. This is the hope and promise of Christmas.