Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tis the Season to be... What, exactly?

Have you ever stopped to wonder what Christmas means to people... even what it means to you? I know a lot of people will answer something about Christ's Birthday, or it's a "season of giving" or maybe a "time when family and loved ones connect" and it might have been one or all of those things once but I wonder if that's really what Christmas means to people now. I wonder if people really know what Christmas means to themselves anymore.

My wife and I no longer celebrate Christmas. We don't get a Christmas Tree, decorate out apartment or exchange gifts. For us Christmas has become something to endure... crowds, store closures, the falsity of people who act anything but charitable towards others at any time of year but especially Christmas. The memories of people and things past which alternately reawaken aching loss or rekindle searing heartbreak.

It wasn't always that way. Both of us come from families where Christmas was a time of gift-giving, celebration and family get-togethers. The religious aspect of it was noted and moderately followed but mostly Christmas was about getting together with family. For me it was always a strange time. I liked the gift giving (and getting) but always felt my own family - my parents & siblings - rarely had any real time to ourselves aside from a few short hours Christmas morning before all the visiting and extended family stuff started. 

And that family stuff... Wow! As a kid I felt it strange seeing people who didn't necessarily get along all year suddenly become close at Christmas time. (At least until the booze started really flowing anyway, then the real fun stuff started.) For the most part, family feuds were put on the back burner for Christmas... a truce of sorts brought on by the need to honor the spirit of the season by forgiving (at least temporarily) all the various slights, insults and character traits exhibited by and between various family members the rest of the year. 

Raised on my family's example, I believed Christmas was a time to let go of old grudges, a time of forgiving. As I understood it, Christmas was when everyone in the family worked to put differences aside and come together in solidarity and peace to celebrate making it through another year. I believed those same principles applied to people outside our family as well. Christmas was a time to be a little more charitable, a little more forgiving and tolerant and a little more pleasant to others be they friends, neighbors, casual acquaintances or complete strangers. 

My wife's family had similar Christmas experiences and values and I think most everyone else did also. I think back then most people still believed in and practiced the time-honored Christmas values of forgiveness, tolerance, acceptance and patience toward others. It wasn't hard to find evidence of that. During the Christmas season people everywhere were more accepting of others' behaviors (and more polite to strangers) than at other times of the year. At Christmas people showed real gratitude to those stuck working during the holidays and everyone tried a little harder to get along. 

Back in those days even the people who didn't do or believe in Christmas showed those same values toward those who did celebrate the season. Nobody got bent out of shape over a stranger wishing them "Merry Christmas", school Xmas pageants, Christmas trees on government spaces, Santa Claus or any other Christmas traditions or accompaniments. If they did, they kept their opinions to themselves... didn't spoil the fun for everyone else. 

Where are those Christmas traditions now? Where is the collective respect towards our fellow man... the tolerance, patience, acceptance and love shown not just to family and friends but complete strangers? Where is that Christmas spirit found in the new holiday traditions of me-first entitlement, indulgence and greed? Just what the heck are we as a society celebrating anymore? Why do we even bother keeping Christmas a holiday anyway when for most people it's all about themselves? Why close the stores and shopping centers if all it's about is buying stuff... usually for ourselves... instead of doing stuff for others... of giving strangers a helping hand (or parking space)... of tolerance, respect, kindness and love toward your fellow man?

We have pushed Christmas (and God) from most of our schools, government and public places. We have created a society where wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" may be considered offensive... where Presidents and Prime Ministers call Christmas trees "Holiday trees" so as not to offend those whose beliefs or faith systems don't recognize Christmas. We are driving Christmas - a time that used to be about recognizing, strengthening and glorifying the bonds between us - underground. We are making the best of our nature into something vile and offensive while at the same time treating one another in the most offensive of fashions with every trip to the mall.

Whatever happened to being nice to each other? What happened to being polite and respectful to strangers? Why do we lose patience with each other sooner and with more negativity at Christmas than any other time of the year? Why are we as a society and as people "celebrating" Christmas by turning more and more toward the antithesis of what it stands for? Just what are we celebrating, exactly?

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