Despite all of the common complaints about the commercialization of Christmas, complaints which have become the stuff of conventional wisdom; despite the flood of email inducements (during what has proven to be a greatly extended holiday season by my standards) to spend my hard-earned money on everything from foods guaranteed to add 50 pounds to my already extensive waist by merely glancing at their name on a written page to email offers from strangers to provide various unnecessary, unsavory, and distinctly unusual services one could only vaguely imagine if one were inclined to do so in the first place; despite the increasing flood of newsletter inserts in holiday cards from friends I don’t know well enough to have been privileged to be apprised that their Uncle Sid died miserably, alone, penniless, and friendless, in a flop house in Upper Moosehead, Maine; despite the ads on television attempting to sell me everything from high-end luxury cars which apparently are the gift of choice at Christmas for discerning Americans to medicines with side effects that would quickly eliminate any need I might have had for those high-end luxury cars if I were to convince my doctor to allow me to partake of them; despite those of you who may be offended that I have used the word ‘Christmas’ and who have mistakenly decided, based solely upon that usage and the meanness of your own heart, that I have no respect for the customs, culture, or religious beliefs of others who are strangers to me or my culture; despite all of this (and some other things too unsavory to mention), I still find Christmas my favorite time of year.
I hereby confess: to spending more than I should at Christmas; some of the email inducements I receive are in direct response to my own activities on the Internet; some of my family and friends are close enough to inform me of tragedy at what should otherwise be a time of joy, and do so tactfully and respectfully of the season; I already own a Lexus, one of a string of five or six (but who’s counting?); and I not only respect the winter solstice customs of others, but find it fascinating that so many different cultures find such singular warmth at the coldest time of year, and often wonder what this phenomenon says about all of us as a species.
What I think it says about all of us is this: all cultures work hard throughout the year to sow, tend, water, guard, and raise the crops necessary to sustain it, those foods that are essential to its survival, and because of the prevailing weather at this time of year (at least in the northern hemisphere), each must make serious invasion into its stores of such foodstuffs, depleting them to a level where the culture must begin the planting-to-harvest cycle anew when the weather is finally permitting in order to survive the coming year. Because of this annual cycle, each culture wishes not only to celebrate the combined, sustained effort of its members which ensured survival during the just concluded long, hard year, it also wishes to: celebrate its collective survival over the many long hard years now lost to history, but whose essence is embedded in those of recent, collective memory; contemplated the combined, sustained efforts necessary to survive the many long, hard years to come; search for that one constant of meaning which might serve to ensure the collective willpower necessary to endure.
Each culture does this by calling scattered family members together: calling family members home to common shelter; inviting them to share their stories of, and the lessons they learned from, the efforts expended by them during the past year in hopes of spreading, widening, and deepening the core of collective, cultural knowledge and wisdom; adjuring them to the collective worship of whatever being or whichever belief the culture holds dear, holds essential – both in gratitude for having successfully endured yet one more long, hard year, and in a culture-wide plea to the unknowable for all of the food, safety, peace, effort, and wisdom necessary to keep matters going into the unknown.
And for all of that, I find great comfort in Christmas, despite the commercialization, despite the unwanted inducements, despite Uncle Sid’s death, despite the fear of others who can find comfort only in the efforts of their own culture, and not in the efforts of others. For I am with my family and friends (some of them through the miracles of the digital age) and celebrating our shared successes and pondering our own future, however or whenever it may evolve.
My plea to each of you – regardless of culture, regardless of belief, regardless of age or status – is to just try to get along, to try to understand that strangers are simply trying to do the same things you are trying to do. For in such a simple, basic understanding lies the wellhead of the universal peace for which we all search.
And now, it’s on to the post-Christmas sales and the new flood of emails in their support that began at precisely 12:01 this morning, the morning of the day after Christmas. Thus it all began anew last night while I was sleeping in this digital age.
Merry Christmas, everyone. And a happy New Year.