I was watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV the other night, and I started to think about the commercialism that disgusted Charlie Brown. I remember watching this cartoon every year since it premiered in 1965. The themes it portrays are still alive today. In fact, they are in hyper-overdrive.
We’ve moved so far away from the original celebrations of Christmas, that it has become a whole new holiday. It is the Christmas of the 21st century complete with LED lights and Apple Pay. It is the season of consumerism, consumption, greed and stress. Celebrating peace, love and joy has been replaced by fighting in the mall over a parking space, punching out a fellow shopper during the Black Friday melee, and maxing out our credit cards buying gifts we feel obligated to purchase.
We feel so compelled to have a Holly Jolly Christmas, that we lose the joy and beauty of the season. Our style of the celebration of Christmas gets its origins in German and English traditions that were brought to this country. Although there was gift giving, it wasn’t the exercise in excess that has been created.
Our journey down Candy Cane Lane begins the day after Halloween until sometime in January – usually the Feast of the Epiphany on January sixth. The practice I remember when growing up was that the Christmas season started the day after Thanksgiving. Santa would appear in the Thanksgiving Day Parade and set-up shop in a local department store. Now, Santa is showing up in the mall sometime right after Labor Day. He is still wearing shorts and flip flops, because his official red suit is still in storage.
We are force fed a heaping helping of Christmas overload. Let us all hail the fattened cash cow that the holiday season has become for retailers. Come and adore the glitter and glitz of non-stop holiday joy at a favorite shopping center. Deck the halls with everything holiday themed and coordinated down to the Santa toilet paper. I guess little Johnny can now sing “I Saw Mommy Flushing Santa Claus.” We are taught that it needs to be overdone, over produced and over emphasized. Let’s all send thanks to big business for that.
Many people talk about the stress of the holidays and how they can’t wait for it all to be over. It can be a difficult time for many, because we have all been lead to believe that we must worship the stack of gifts we have piled under the perfect tree. The hot cocoa must be steaming in mugs by Martha Stewart, while carols purchased from iTunes fill our house with Bing and Andy lulling us into a Christmas coma.
I know that I don’t have to follow someone’s marketing plan of how the Christmas season should be celebrated. I don’t need to deplete my 401k accounts to make everyone happy with a gift that will be forgotten by Valentine’s Day. There are other ways to celebrate and make the holiday joyful and filled with special memories.
I might sound like I’m anti-Christmas, but that isn’t true at all. In fact, I absolutely love Christmas and the season, and I believe that it is the most beautiful and wondrous time of year. I just don’t want to follow the path of over-indulgence until I’m left wondering what was special when the bleakness of January arrives. I want to revel in meaningful traditions of love, joy, peace, and sharing with family.
We should make merry in the fashion that makes us most happy – not in the commercialized version we have been brainwashed to aspire to. In the past, I always felt that everything had to be perfect, and the right gifts should be bought for everyone. I needed that Hallmark version of the holiday. The more I forced myself to adhere to some made-up version of how Christmas should be, the more unhappy and unfulfilled I became. There were not enough hours in the day to cram all the joy I needed to spread to everyone around me. I was left on Christmas Eve with a stack of gifts to be wrapped feeling tired, stressed and unhappy.
I have decided that I need to redefine and redesign the holiday to make it meaningful and memorable for me. I want to stop and take in the merry and bright. Let the season renew me. I want to greet the New Year feeling hopeful instead of exhausted and hung over. It only will take some slight changes and a new perspective.
As Kris Kringle says in Miracle on 34th Street – “Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind.” That frame of mind can be love, joy, peace and faith to those around you. I believe those are the principles of the holiday and how one interprets them into their celebration will leave them feeling the wonder of the season.
Here are my ideas and the way I will make Christmas a time to remember and cherish.
LOVE – There are many ways to express love. It can be as simple as saying, “I love you” to your family and friends. We forget to say it often enough, and may think that people important to us get it through osmosis – they don’t. This is definitely the time of the year to verbalize it, and show it in a tangible form. I like traditions, so I still send Christmas cards to friends and family. It is a way to show you are thinking of someone and to send your love. It is easy to do (low stress) and can be a lasting memory. I have cards that my mom sent me, that express her message of love, and I cherish them. Sharing and experiencing genuine love can certainly warm any heart – it worked on the Grinch.
Love is extolled as coming “wrapped up in ribbons.” The world of consumerism has us believe that we show our love by swiping our credit card and delivering it in a box. Giving a gift is supposed to be an expression of our love, and wanting to do something special for the people in our lives. I have always loved a Christmas gift, but I don’t want to think the giver felt obligated.
I think we can relieve the pressure of Christmas shopping and the dreaded gift list if we really give from our heart. It is about understanding the person we want to give a gift to, and not just trying to impress with glitz and bling. Okay, the Three Kings brought gold, but they were Kings and probably had a stash where they could grab it. It should be about simply expressing our love, and not skipping the mortgage payment to fill our stockings.
If one’s bank account is pulling on the reigns, then exercise restraint. It isn’t the amount of gifts or the cost that should matter to anyone. So many gifts are returned after Christmas. This is a great example of just giving to give. The wrong size, color, style, etc., means we stuffed something into a box to deliver a gift for Christmas. The greatest gift is to give us! Give our companionship, our friendship, and our time. That is what is matters most and provides meaningful memories.
Joy – The joy of the holiday season for me is the beauty it brings to the bleakness of winter. It is the most magical time of year with all the decorations that light up and brighten neighborhoods, city streets, and the stores. I must admit I do put up my tree the weekend before Thanksgiving, not because I want to be like the mall and it’s a requirement, I do it because I love the lights and enjoyment it brings me. I can gaze at the tree, think of holidays from the past and relax. It is my Xanax with branches.
I love to decorate my home and enjoy the lights on the tree and mantel. The process brings me joy. It is that sense of being a kid again and instilling that feeling of wonder and magic that the season is filled with. I do this because it is my tradition, not because I have an instruction manual issued by Christmas.com. I don’t follow a guideline that decorations are required to deck the halls.
I live close to Philadelphia and New York City. There is nothing like experiencing the beauty of the holidays by seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center, the windows at Macy’s or Rittenhouse Square covered in lights. It’s the spectacle that thrills me and leaves me happy – the reason it is there. Let the joy of the season and all its trappings make you smile, not the giant box from Best Buy.
Peace – Peace truly is a state of mind, and hopefully something we want to pass on to everyone around us. At the holidays we can all strive for inner peace. There is no time like Christmas to reflect on a peaceful existence and contemplate how the season emulates that principle. I try to take a deep breath and draw in that peace which guides me into the New Year. I love what always feels like the quiet anticipation of Christmas Eve when the whole world seems peaceful. Let’s put that in a box and pass it out.
Faith – Whether we are religious, spiritual or atheist, we all have faith in something. For me it is the faith in those around me. The faith I can count on my family and friends to help and support me. I believe in the faith that all can strive for something better in life.
We can display faith by attending church on Christmas, by giving to a charity or just by holding our family close. We decide how we want to be faithful. It is part of the spirit of the season. There is no monetary value, but it is a precious thing.
This year I am returning to the holidays of my youth. I don’t have a time machine, but I can celebrate the things that were important to me. I can take in what really provided the joy and happiness I felt. I can keep traditions that my parents instilled in me, and create new ones. Mostly, I can step away from the commercialism that permeates our modern Christmas. Anyone can do it. Remove the stress, the anxiety, and the exhaustion. There is a holiday here to really celebrate, and it will be the best gift to receive.