Alright readers, I know this subject sounds like something right out of a kindergarten writing assignment, but I think you have all seen enough of my scholarly side with the previous entry. So I thought being that now I have officially completed first semester, it’s time to abandon my serious side and have some fun! What do you think? And since there are only eight days until Christmas, what could be more fun than talking about Christmas?
A lot of people are critical of the whole Christmas season, arguing rightfully that it has become too commercialized, and that too many people get stressed out over the shopping, cooking and decorating that they lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas, a holiday which should be about remembering the birth of Christ and just enjoying time with family. It would be nice if society could shift toward recognizing the true meaning of Christmas, but despite society’s corruption of Christmas, it is, and probably always will be my favorite holiday. Part of the reason for this could be that no other holiday is celebrated quite like Christmas. For every other holiday of the year, it is one particular day that is celebrated, whereas Christmas is a season. When a holiday only consists of one day, there is no widespread decorating, no incentive to spend two or three whole days standing across the counter helping Mom bake cookies or unwrapping sparkly ornaments to put on a real frazier fir tree we cut down every year, no special songs to sing along to on the radio, and often, no time off from the routine of work for my parents and school for me. Some years we will carve a pumpkin for our front porch on Halloween, or bake heart shaped cookies on Valentine’s Day, but there are a lot of years where we will choose to skip these activities.
But as controversial as this will sound, there is an advantage to the commercialism of Christmas. While on the surface, all of the gift shopping, decorative displays, commercials, and even some of the Christmas music on the radio like Santa Baby, or Christmas specials on television are shallow staples of Christmas inspired by a consumption oriented society, I love these staples in that beneath the surface, they have allowed our culture to feel a Christmas spirit for a whole season, not just one day, and I think it is this added significance given to Christmas by our culture that explains why my family, and I am sure many other families cannot remember a year when they did not decorate a Christmas tree, or did not bake Christmas cookies, and I think there is something magical about that. But it is not just the Christmas spirit fostered by our culture that makes Christmas magical. On a deeper level, Christmas is magical in that it somehow transforms people. For most of the year, it seems like people go about the boring routine called life in a sleepy trance, but during the Christmas season, the stores and streets are filled with noise, laughter and life. Choirs singing Christmas carols are a fixture at the mall, along with the cheery salvation army bells that warm people’s hearts and inspire people who normally hold tight to their money to be generous, or to just say Merry Christmas to strangers they ignore the rest of the year. When the college choir I sang with this semester held two concerts in October, there were a lot of empty seats in the auditorium, and many of the attendees I am sure were like my dad, guilted in to coming to the concert in support of a singer when they would much rather be watching a college football game (smile). But there is something about Christmas that inspires the community to abandon their normal routine and come together for a concert because both nights the Christmas program was performed, there was hardly an empty seat to be found. In fact, for a large contingent of people, the Christmas concert is an event they look forward to all year, and some even reserve their tickets months in advance. Thus while for some, Christmas is unfortunately a time of selfishness and overspending, I think for most people, it is a season of slowing down and rediscovering simple pleasures in life: pleasures like unplugging from facebook to bake cookies with your mom, setting aside an evening to attend a choir concert instead of zoning out in front of the television, deciding that for one day a year, decorating a tree is more important than housework, schoolwork or bills, or even just saying hello to people you don’t notice in the chaos of life the rest of the year. This collective sense of slowing down and rediscovering simple pleasures by everyone in the community is almost like emerging from the stuffy room in to the fresh air of a glorious spring day.
Another aspect that I think makes Christmas magical is the fact that it encompasses everyone. Of course, there are people who don’t celebrate Christmas, at least in the religious sense. I respect others’ beliefs, although on a side note, I must say hearing Christmas referred to as Xmas, or seeing cards with the hollow “Happy Holidays” greeting makes me angry, and I really think that if I practiced a religion that didn’t celebrate Christmas, I wouldn’t be offended by the mere use of the word Christmas. But I digress. What I was getting to is that while not everyone celebrates Christmas in the religious sense, the fact that Christmas plays such a dominant role in our culture, with all schools and many business closing around Christmas, it is a chance for people of all faiths to slow down and celebrate, even if that celebration involves simply not going to work but spending a day at home with family. But Christmas also encompasses everyone in that for many other holiday customs, society has imposed unwritten age limits, and I have yet to find a tradition as fun as Trick-or-treating or Easter egg hunting. The big ham dinner my grandma or Dad always makes on Easter, or greeting a new generation of adorable trick-ortreaters at the door and eating leftover candy for the next month are fun traditions, somehow these traditions cannot make up for the magic that was lost when I became too old to trick-or-treat or go Easter egg hunting. In the early days of this journal, I wrote an entry about how some of the magic of Christmas was lost in sixth grade when Mom confessed that there isn’t a Santa Claus, at least not in the literal sense. (I was the one to ask, and deep down, I think Mom and I both came to the sad realization that holding on to my innocence on this subject could get me laughed right out of middle school). But just like that editor’s response to the famous letter a little girl named Virginia wrote to a newspaper asking “Is there a Santa Claus?” Mom reminded me that Santa can always live on in my heart. At first this was difficult to comprehend, but the older I get, the more I notice Santa’s presence in the heart of children young and old. I notice it in the sleigh bells that are the trademark of so many wonderful Christmas standards, and in the joyful singing along to these standards from adults who claim they don’t like to sing the rest of the year. I notice it in the happy chatter that all of the campus Christmas decorations and upcoming festivities inspire, despite the stress of final exams and projects that are still pending. So while Santa isn’t a literal man from the north pole who slides down the chimney to deliver toys at midnight, he is definitely a strong spiritual force that gives a gift even more thrilling than a toy, and that gift is the reawakening of the child inside all of us, a magical feeling that no other holiday can match.
No other holiday has nostalgic poetry with whimsical lines like “the children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plumbs danced in their heads”, eloquently worded beautifully descriptive lines like “more rapid than eagles, his coursers they came. And he whistled and shouted and called them by name”, and jolly lines like “he had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly”, lines from a poem that is the embodiment of joy. Even at twenty years old, I still adore this poem, and if I am all alone in the house, or when I get lost in sweet daydreaming while walking on the treadmill, I often forget about my shyness this time of year and bring the poem to life in a joyful british Shakespearian voice, imagining that I am that child witnessing Saint Nick’s visit firsthand. Only at Christmas could I get away with skipping around the house annoying my parents with incredibly exuberant renditions of silly songs like “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas”, or teasing Grandma by cautioning her as she is getting her coat on to drive home after dinner at our house “Be careful not to get run over by a reindeer!” The rest of the year, I think like an adult, with my thoughts constantly occupied with school responsibilities, and my personality reserved and serious. But the joy inspired in me by the Christmas season always makes my mind wander and think silly child-like thoughts. For example, every time I hear the song “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch,” a song from the Dr. Seuss inspired cartoon that always was and still is my absolute favorite Christmas special, I cannot help but think about how funny it would be if a teacher, brother or boss ever did something grinchy like give me a bad grade around Christmas some year and I shouted at them “you’re a three-decker sauerkraut and toad stool sandwich with arsenic sauce!” and maybe pretended to burst in to tears, stomp out of the room and slam the door! I would never do it of course because knowing my luck, the person I decided to do that to wouldn’t share my weird sense of humor, but just remembering these mischievous thoughts sparked this time of year make me smile all season. Only at Christmas does Mom say “Aw! it’s Christmas! Don’t worry about it!” when I mention that I have lost count of how many cookies I have eaten. Only at Christmas does the mom who encourages proper etiquette all year, give you a chocolate covered spoon and bowl to lick, as she licks a spoon herself. So in short, maybe Christmas is too commercialized, but beneath the commercialization is a season that is the embodiment of magic, innocence and joy, making it a season I always hate to see end. I understand it would be unrealistic for the Christmas season to last all year, and truthfully, I probably wouldn’t want it to since then, it would no longer be special. But when the Christmas season is over and life gets rough or even just boring and I am in need of joyful thoughts, you might hear me launch in to a random Christmas carol, have random cravings for Christmas cookies, or I might even go so far as to say “Shhh, listen. Do you hear sleigh bells? I swear I hear sleigh bells!”