Thursday, December 21, 2017

What do the Holidays mean to me now? Not an easily answered question...

I'm not sure what the holidays actually mean anymore.
To me personally, to my family, to this country that I live in.

Is this sense of dissonance due to the current sociopolitical climate? Is it a shift within my own perspective as a parent who no longer has young children to feed the magic of the season to? Is it the rabid consumerism that has been ingrained into our cultural psyche that feels terrifying when seen against the latest tax bill?

Its a positive mix of answers that can be given to each of these questions; and yet, it is truly my response - or lack of response - that has me mulling this over as I write.

Years ago, I tried to filter out the religious Christmas carols from my usual December playlist. I am not a Christian - even though I was raised in a secular Christian household.  What do I mean by that? My family celebrated the high holy days of Christianity - Easter and Christmas - but we never attended church. Christmas was about Santa Clause and Easter was about egg hunts and chocolate. The rituals of the holidays were studded with family, food, and gifts. It was all a rising crescendo that culminated in what was under the tree Christmas morning.

When I was around twenty one, my parents had the audacity to grow tired of these rituals and it was The Year Without a Christmas Tree. I was horrified. How could they not want to immerse themselves in the glory of ornaments, stockings and outdoor lights?

I understand now.

I digress, let's go back to what I was saying about Christmas Carols. So I cut out the overtly religious carols (with the exception of Silent Night because I - gonna be honest - I love singing that carol in the shower. I change the words a bit, but its in my range). This year,  I've had my ear tuned to the myth of the perfect gift - the manic buy, buy buy that is the holiday season. Cyber-Monday. Black Friday flow charts. The news reporting about whether people are spending or not. The rich getting richer, cost of health insurance going up. Its a cacophony of frantic and hyped need - for more stuff. I guess I'm not feeling like "stuff" is going to fix any of the larger problems facing my local community let alone my country.

Listening to my streaming Christmas music I've had some wayward thoughts. Why is the Grinch such a horrible person? He's mean because he doesn't give gifts. I'm not talking about the cartoon where, sure, he steals all the gifts, decor, and food - and then gives them back when his heart opens up to the magic of community. No, listen to the song - he's a Horrible Person because he doesn't want anything to do with Christmas. The song has become an iconic holiday track. Talk about scapegoating. Baby It's Cold Outside - I don't need to say anything about that song, right? Santa Baby, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Its Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas, Silver Bells... the list goes on. As I listen, I wonder what marketing firm for which department store wrote these songs. They insidiously tie the season of peace and love to the buying of gifts. Its consumer programming at its best. Brilliant.

My playlist now is all instrumental holiday music.

I didn't think about all of this for so many years because I was busy crafting the most marvelous holiday experiences for my kids. I think I wanted them to believe in the magic - of something. I wanted them to have rituals that had them taking time to be with those that they love.

Actually, it was about fifteen years ago that I realized how hollow some of the holiday traditions were - for me. Most of that hollowness (and exhaustion) had to do with the purchasing of "the perfect gift"off of the lists that we were given by family members. It was woven into decorating Christmas trees, outdoor lighting displays and participating in multiple events that required hosting or participating in heavy food laden activities. Holiday recitals, class parties, concerts and, not to be forgotten, the foray into downtown Seattle to see Santa or the Nutcracker. I never did so many holiday oriented activities when I was a child - why were we doing all of these things with our kids?

I took a survey of my children - and Andy - and asked: What is the most meaningful parts of the holiday season to you? Trimming the tree - together. Opening stockings on Christmas morning - together. Spending time with family. That was eye-opening. We made changes to our family rituals - giving gifts that we made or experiences that we could do together. We stayed in our pajamas on Christmas day and ate leftovers. I kept trying to evolve our family holiday in a way that didn't give me this hollow feeling inside. Holidays continue to evolve - shifting, changing - but the five of us (and now the six of us) try our best to find time to simply be...together.

But what I'm realizing is that perhaps my holiday experiences have never been any more hollow than the lack of meaning which is at the heart of the American Holiday Extravaganza called Christmas. In actuality, my holiday experiences have probably been more relaxed and filled with love and meaning than a lot of people's. But its all still built on a mythic house of cards that is the high holy day that is Christmas - a day set aside to celebrate the birth of a savior that isn't mine. In fact, it seems to be a segment of his followers who spew the most spite and hate in this country at the moment - and this hypocrisy never fails to astonish and sadden me. There are some beautiful, kind, compassionate devout Christians out there - I just wish their voices were being heard. I'm digressing again...

Actually, no, that's relevant. It is all of this that has had me so very conflicted. The holidays have become the perfect storm of consumerism and experiences all geared to make us happy and joyous. And wow, we American's sure put on a good show.  Its a moving feast/play/recital/shopping frenzy - with a few lovely moments spent with people that we care about.

Now, with the kids pretty much out of the house between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am wrestling with an ambivalence that is hard to shake. And maybe that's also perfectly acceptable because I've been hosting this Christmas performance for over thirty years. I'm ready to pass the baton to the next generation - just as my parents passed it on to me. I have a hunch that there is often a holiday renaissance when little children begin to sprout on the family tree. Regardless of that, my dearest hope is that my children will think long and hard about what they choose to celebrate - and how. My hope is that they are savvy enough to understand what is spooned fed to them by our current social meme. My hope is that they've had a chance to step out of the raging river that is the dominant mindset around the holidays - and will seek out those moments of love and giving.

And I hope to be there with them as we come together to celebrate the return of the light to our dark little corner of the world.

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