Not everyone loves Christmas. It’s a hard time for many, many people and certainly not everyone in this country celebrates Christmas. Yet it is the only day of the year that everything, practically everything except gas stations, is closed. Why is this? What makes Christmas the most important day of the year? So much so that businesses shut down, people stay at home, and commerce screeches to a halt? What is it’s enthrall?
I’ve come to enjoy what is a deeply quiet day unlike any other day of the year, but it hasn't always been this way. In my early years I loved Christmas because the holiday was so magical as a little kid that I never wanted that feeling to end. Once I grew up and moved out of my parent’s house I kept up the tradition for a while as it connected me to the promise of a childhood with a family that loved me and each other, and a world that cared so much that strangers brought you presents affirming your inherent goodness. That’s the world I wanted to live in forever, the sad thing is it had already ended so many years earlier for me. By the time I was in high school I would put up the artificial tree by myself each year, dragging the boxes of decorations up from the cellar in hopes someone else in my family would want to help me. No one was interested and hadn’t been for some years at that point. Without me, we wouldn’t really have had a Christmas.
Once I was willing to let the fairytale go, I had to concede that it was a pretty depressing time of the year given that those things I longed for, and the dream of them that I dearly held onto, were not a reality in my life and that pretty much I was on my own in this world. This is true for so many people. Not everyone has family that love and support them, and some are homeless and out of sorts in their minds. Many have no cause for celebrating on this day, and I personally have friends for whom this day is a painful reminder of what’s been lost in their lives and from which they have not yet fully recovered. And still others are inundated with a religious tradition that has nothing to do with who they are or how they grew up. For many of us, Christmas is a mixed bag indeed.
When I got married my then-husband was enthusiastic about Christmas and while I resisted and still felt quite scrooge-like for many years, I slowly came out of my funk around it. I wanted to feel more connected to the traditions I felt drawn to as a girl, most of all was the lighting and decorating of trees. The Christmas tree itself has its roots in pagan tradition and the lights symbolize the Winter Solstice as much as they do Christ’s light. We started to get a tree each year, and I now own a collection of lights and ornaments that rival my early coveted collection that had been lost along the way. I even got a small tree one year after I divorced—a testament to the fact that I was no longer in resistance to what the day symbolized. And yet, I am clear that I am not really celebrating “Christmas” per se.
Christmas is, after all, a conglomeration of many different traditions that were conflated and subsequently overhyped and oversold in the twentieth-century leading to the debacle we have today. If it weren’t for all the commercialized gift-giving it could be a collective moment of thanks for all the warmth that the Sun gives us and for what Christ actually symbolizes—forgiveness and love. Somehow I think he would be a bit disappointed in us Americans.
My heart goes out to all of those who struggle with their fractured sense of family and tradition, and to those who are marginalized by our society and it’s moral restrictions. I saw some people when I went for a walk this afternoon and everyone had at least a kind smile to exchange. My heart was warmed, and I spent the day alone and in quite good spirits. A sense of peace and love for this crazy, mixed up, beautiful world and all it’s creatures informs my experience of life, and for which I am deeply grateful.
Perhaps this is what is to be celebrated. It definitely is by me.