The holidays are upon us, and I realize that in all my entire adult life I have never really enjoyed myself at this time of year. Every positive association is a memory, and each year I try to cope by enacting old traditions that I remember from my childhood: decorations, lights, music, wishes for peace on earth, the warm way that old friends get in touch with each other, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, etc. All of these are wonderful traditions that make me feel warm and fuzzy, but those feelings are often overridden by feelings of inadequacy brought on by the consumer society that I am a part of that every day bombards all of us with advertisements that try to persuade us that we will not be happy, complete, or fulfilled unless we possess the crap they are trying to sell us. And we all fall for it, no matter how conscious we are of that little devil on our shoulders.
I end up waxing nostalgic. I hear myself saying things like: “When I was a kid, people didn’t stand outside department stores in the wee hours to get their kids the hottest toy that everybody wanted.” But the reality is that there probably was some equivalent, and I’m just remembering differently. I find myself getting depressed because I never have enough money to get presents for everyone on my list, or that I didn’t get it together early enough to get my holiday cards out on time, or that I didn’t come up with idea or have the time or the energy to make home-made truffles put in pretty little boxes for all of my friends.
And then, of course, there is the news. Inevitably there are stories of violence and tragedy from around the world, tsunamis, war, raping and pillaging, domestic violence, drive-by shootings here in Oakland, and tales of parents fighting in the aisles of Wal-Mart over the last Elmo TMX. What in the heck are we teaching our children?
And I don’t even do family on the holidays any more. I am not principled about it or anything. It just doesn’t make sense to me to go through the chaos of the airports, standing in lines and waiting interminably amidst screaming toddlers, stressing out on the plane through take-off, turbulence, and landing, only to be with every member of my family for a short visit, not having quality time with any of them, dealing with short tempers and the pressure of creating precious memories for the scrapbook. I love my family, absolutely adore them. They are all exceptional people whom I respect and admire individually. Getting all of us together can be fun, too. I love telling stories, talking religion and politics with them, reminiscing, the whole thing. Just not on the holidays.
I have gone through so many holiday seasons totally self-absorbed, immobilized by consumerism, violence, natural disaster, degradation to the environment, light deficiency syndrome, loneliness, and people just hating each other. There have been many years when I just can’t wait for the holidays to be over. It shouldn’t be this way!
So, I have a resolution to reclaim the holidays, create new traditions with my wife, and do what I really love to do. Our church has taken the concept of “International Buy Nothing Day” (the day after Thanksgiving) one step further to proclaim it “International Give-Away Day.” Gillian and I are adopting this concept as a tradition into our life. Gift-giving will be minimal, and we will instead focus on giving philanthropically, and instead of acquiring things that we don’t need, we will give away the things that we don’t need.
I am resolved to prioritize joy and love this holiday season (and every season here after). I am going to send simple holiday cards just to let friends know that they are loved, I am going to make truffles with Gillian because it is fun and we enjoy doing it, we are going to entertain a few friends because we love them, we are going to have some special holiday meals because we enjoy cooking and eating, I am going to watch my favorite holiday TV specials because they are great, and Gillian and I are going to go to church because we think its fun (yes, our church is fun and inspirational) and we’re going to get an injection of love with which to go forward and create peace with justice and love in our community in our own small way.
That is really all we can do. I can’t create world peace by myself. All I can do is make a place in the world where I can help to create and be a part of the community that I want to live in, perhaps be a model for others, and just relax and enjoy all that is beautiful about the holidays.