As a kid, I loved Christmas.
What’s not to love? Festivities included presents (from Santa, Mom and Dad, and both sides of the family); lots of delicious food (fudge and pies, ham and turkey, potato salad and rice dressing); and running wild with my cousins.
As I got older, my Christmas enjoyment expanded as I learned that giving can be just as fun as receiving. I remember saving the meager amounts of money that came into my life to buy little low-priced Christmas items from the Sears catalog. I gave my godmother a tiny Christmas tree meant to hold toothpicks and a select few of my elementary school friends received erasers shaped and colored like Christmas tree lights.
Christmas of 7th grade stands out because my parents allowed me to host a party. My four best friends were invited. We pulled names to decide who would buy gifts for whom and set a $10 spending limit. I pulled Kim’s name and bought her treasures to fuel her Duran Duran obsession. Tiffany pulled my name and went over the spending limit when she got me both Bruce Springstein’s Born in the USA album AND Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry. I ate too many Pillsbury slice and bake cookies and drank too much Cherry Coke and puked (not on purpose) after my friends went home.
The last year I remember celebrating Christmas in a traditional way was 1995. I hosted a tree trimming party. I put up an artificial tree and made ornaments with the names of the guests outlined in glitter. I prepared snacks, got everything ready…and was disappointed when only one or two friends showed up. I’d imagined us rockin’ around the Christmas tree, but it turned out to be more of a blue Christmas.
By the next year I was an anarchist. My friends were anarchists too. Instead of celebrating Christmas, we critiqued consumerism and capitalism and Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of problems with consumerism, capitalism, and Christianity, and I still believe critique can be a healthy way to learn and teach. But is it possible to critique Christmas and still enjoy some aspects of it?
Personally, it’s the entire holiday season I like, everything from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the entire month of December plus a little more. But I know that for the majority of people in America, Christmas is the main event, with Hanukkah perhaps a distance second. Yes, some people celebrate Yule and/or Solstice, but in most places those people are few and far between. And while I know there are people who celebrateKwanzaa, I’ve never met any of them. (That’s on me. I’m not suggesting Kwanzaa celebrators are in any way responsible for seeking me out.)
For me, the winter holidays are not about a baby born in a barn in the distance past and laid to sleep in a manager. I was brought up Catholic, but I don’t even consider myself Christian anymore. Christian holidays are not my holidays. To be honest, I don’t particularly celebrate Pagan holidays either. Christmas and Yule and Solstice and Boxing Day are usually just regular days for me, perhaps with some additional stuffing. (Oh, hey, I just looked it up and found out that Yule is 12 days long…I had not idea until right now.)
So I’ll tell you what I like about Christmas time, the holiday season, whatever you want to call it. I like that people are nicer to each other during this time of year.
People give each other presents, but I don’t mean just friends and family. People give presents to folks who are practically strangers. When people give a little gift to their mail carrier or garbage collector or teacher, they’re expressing appreciation to virtual strangers. When folks give to Toys for Tots or pluck a tag from a tree at Walmart or Denny’s then get a gift for the person listed on the tag, they’re giving to an actual stranger. During the holidays people donate to food banks and other charitable organizations and maybe even give a little extra cash to the person flying a sign on the corner.
Christmas time isn’t just about gifts though. People think about each other more. They send cards to one another or maybe a text to catch up. People say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or “Happy New Year” (which I like to use well into February). People acknowledge each other more throughout the entire month of December. People simply seem kinder during that part of the year.
I like the additional kindness. I like to receive it. I like to give it out. I like to see other folks giving it and receiving it too. But I think there’s something else at play during the winter holidays. I think during this part of the year, people have more hope.
Now here’s the question: Does the hopefulness make people kinder or does the kindness make people more hopeful? I suppose it doesn’t matter. My wish is that we can all be more hopeful and kinder to each other all year long.
I wish this for all of us and specifically to you. I wish you more hope and more kindness today and in the coming year. I wish for you to receive more kindness and to show more kindness too. I wish these things for myself and for each individual, which then means I’m wishing it for us collectively too.
I’m also wishing you a very happy whatever-holiday-you celebrate-this-time-of-year. If you celebrated Hanukkah a few weeks ago, I hope it was wonderful. If you welcomed winter on the Solstice, I hope it was meaningful for you. If you’re a Festivus person, I hope you aired all your grievances and ate a lot of carbs. If you’re celebrating Christmas today, I hope it’s merry and bright. If Boxing Day is your tradition, I hope tomorrow is a great day for you. If you begin celebrating Kwanzaa tomorrow, I wish you a joyous Kwanzaa. If you begin celebrating Yule tomorrow, I hope the next twelve days are fabulous. If I didn’t name your holiday, I still hope it’s a good one (and I’d love you to tell us all about it in the comments).
And of course, Happy New Year. I’m hoping 2022 is a good one for all of us.