One of my favorite songs is “If we make through December, everything’s going to be alright …” I don’t think there is a song more truthful to the core of the Christmas story than this. It is unfortunate, but I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas. I have fond memories of Christmas as a child and there wasn’t a specific Christmas that changed my attitude towards the Day, but I don’t like what It has become, personally or commercially.
In the early 1990s, while I was going back to school, I lost my job and took a much lower paying job as a teaching assistant at a high school. I’m glad it happened, for it made me change my major from engineering to education, but that is for a different story. For this story, the event left Denise and I financially disadvantaged, so we asked our family and friends to forgo the present trading tradition; most did, so even when we reestablished our financial security, we had very limited gift exchanges, which we liked immensely. This helped reestablish, for us, what Christmas was supposed to be about: Hope.
With an “extended” (i.e., fractured) family structure it has always been hard to accommodate everybody without feelings getting hurt. Especially with our selfish desire to distance ourselves from the commercial, greed-based side of Christmas, feelings got hurt most years. Before we had our cabin in the woods, there were a few Christmases that we ran away to the mountains – sometimes taking part of the family with us. Now that we do have the cabin, we have spent a couple of Christmases with just Denise, Lucky, and me – and they were wonderful.
This year, we decided to stay local, so our Christmas lasted three days: 1) friends, 2) family, and 3) more family. We did something different this year on day three (Christmas Day); we went to a nice restaurant. I certainly can understand why so many people do so. Nothing to prepare and nothing to clean up was great, but what was really great was the actual giving this year. We still gave a few cheesy presents to those close family members, which hopefully they will re-gift! But the real giving was hundreds of extra dollars given to the various staff who were not spending Christmas with their families (and many were probably thankful!), and had more need of the money than we did.
On Boxing day, I read The Christmas Sweater, which also reminded me what Christmas is supposed to be: Hope. It doesn’t matter what our beliefs, there is a universal element of hope within all of us. Although those who don’t really know me may come away with the wrong impression, I have always believed that Hope is the universal truth that makes us human. That is, the Hope that tomorrow will be even better than the wonderful day we had today. Thus, the dichotomy of Christmas, in my mind: I live everyday with that Hope, and have a very difficult time understanding why we put so much emphasis on Christmas, especially Christmas Day. It seems that we should trade our one special day in for 365 special days each year.
Thus, my Hope for the New Year is a life better than the wonderful one I have now, if that is even possible…