Ahh, the holiday season, when families come together, exchange presents, sing carols around the piano, share a feast at the dining table, and the love flows to all as they bask in the warmth of these joyous days in December.
That’s what we’re supposed to believe, isn’t it? That is all a fantasy and I’m not sure who dreamed it up, but when that fantasy was promoted by the big marketing machines, the American public picked it up quickly. Christmas is not what it was when I was a kid, and from what my parents tell me, it certainly is not what it was when they were young. Sixty years ago, when my mom was a little girl, the tree, freshly cut, was brought into the house on Christmas Eve, often after the children were put to bed. The presents that were under the tree were few: an orange, which was rare here in southwestern Pennsylvania, and perhaps a small toy. This dearth of presents may be due to the fact that my grandfather was a poor coal-miner. I have the feeling though, that wealthier families restrained their gift-giving as well.
My own parents followed the trend of the nation and extended the holiday season a bit. Forty years ago, our tree was live, but in the house and decorated a full week before Christmas day. They would hand us the Penney’s catalog and tell us to make a list. As we grew older, and smarter, we were given a dollar limit, and told to stay within it!
We were late getting our trees up this year. Yes, trees. Three of them. We usually have them up by the end of Thanksgiving weekend. Did you notice that the radio stations have been pushing this extended holiday season too? The all Christmas music format used to begin on Thanksgiving Day. This year, it started a full week before.
Why do we buy into this Christmas reverie? I think it’s because it represents the holiday we want to have. Those are extremely high expectations and being the imperfect people that we are, we can never fulfill those dreams for each other, nor ourselves.
I’ve learned to be a bit more realistic about the holidays, reflect on the religious meaning more, and try to give others what I really want from them: love. It’s not easy. This past week, I found myself highly agitated. I made it through Christmas day just fine, but all of my intentions to keep things in balance flew out the window on December 26th.
Families being what they are in the best of circumstances can be difficult. When you add divorces and stepchildren into the holiday mix, stir that in with dealing with exes and in-laws, then keep in mind that work and careers continue just as they did before Christmas, well a person can have a big pot of trouble ready to boil over. Which it did for me.
It’s not just family and friends, or kids, or work that can cause emotional pain for us. It can also be the lack of those things. My cousin, Hooter, isn’t married, has never had kids, is somewhat estranged from his sister, and lives alone in a nice home up in the mountains. He works hard to gather friends about him during the holidays, and I know that he feels blessed to have the many friends that he does. He’s told me that as much as he appreciates those friends, as much as he knows how much we love him, eventually he falls asleep alone. A friend once told me that the reason people marry is so that they have someone who is a witness to their life, someone to affirm their life and share it with them. I know that Hooter wants that person to witness his life. He deserves it.
In the midst of my angst-ridden holiday week, I make the call to Hooter, and soon find myself in his dining room sharing a wonderful, and low-calorie, meal. We talk and laugh, exchange presents, and I unload my Christmas-driven story of “woe is me” and Hooter takes it all in. He gives me encouragement and talks of his own holiday stress, which comes from his lack of being in a relationship and the distance of friends, but this time I hear something different in his voice. It’s a spark of hope. There is someone new in Hooter’s life. They are beginning to witness each other’s life in a way that may grow into love. Time will tell that tale. As I left Hooter’s mountain home, I was renewed, encouraged, fed physically and spiritually. I was hopeful, for myself, and for Hooter. It doesn’t matter how long the holiday season is extended, the message is still the same. The world is looking for something, or someone to come and change it from what it is, to what it can be: Light of Light, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Hope of Hope.
Merry Christmas Hooter!