The numbers people are talking once again about how Christmas provides a much-needed boost to the economy. How many dollar signs will be charted, how many millions of dollars spent. But the holiday season does more than just get people to buy their father-in-law another sweater he doesn’t need.
The holidays are the best excuse ever invented to do the really important stuff that we’d otherwise never get around to, because the e-mail box is full, there’s a mountain of laundry, and the car is starting to make a funny noise.
For example, Christmas forces us to take a break and do things like:
–Visit family and friends. For 11 months of the year, we find endless excuses not to get together with the people that we love most in the world. We’re too busy. They’re too busy. It’s too expensive. It’s too cold there, too hot here. We’ve got that new project that’s getting ready to start. Traveling is such a hassle.
But then Christmas rolls around and somehow we manage to make the plans, book the plane, find the time, get off the treadmill, and get over all the reasons we think we have not to go or not to let them come. We may do it with a curse or with a smile, but we do it.
Because without the holiday Superglue to briefly patch us back together, the increasingly fractured families of our globe-trotting age might fully fall apart.
For example, I live in Dallas and am now packing to go to Chicago in December. What could be more ridiculous? A trip to a place where car doors freeze completely shut in the wintertime, weathermen gleefully discuss 30-degree below zero windchills, and a trip to the grocery store for a loaf of bread requires “warming up” the car for 30 minutes and donning three layers of clothing, a parka, snow boots, and a fur hat?
Why? Why would anyone do that?
Because it’s Christmas. And because at Christmas, we remember that the greatest comfort of all is the comfort of connection.
–Writing Christmas cards. As the years go by, I have less and less enthusiasm for the work of Christmas cards: the selecting, the address searching, writing, the mailing. But that small effort once a year forces us to examine the year gone by and to consider which friendships we’ve lost, which we’d like to rekindle, and which new ones we’ve formed in the last 12 months.
–Extravagant toy buying. And Santa. During the rest of the year, we’re worried that we’re spoiling our children if we give them too much, but at Christmas we have permission to get a little crazy. The giant train, the massive dollhouse, the Big Wheel, the go-cart, the pool table. There is nothing like hearing a squeal of delight and the seeing the shine of children’s eyes when they wake up on Christmas day.
And there’s nothing better than snuggling up on the couch to watch “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” with a small child who asks you serious questions about what Rudolph eats, and where he sleeps, and why he isn’t included in the “Night Before Christmas” book.
–Homemade cookie baking. Seventy-five percent of homemade cookies are baked between December 15 and December 25, according to a statistic that I just made up. I’m sure some enthusiastic people bake cookies year-round, but most of us don’t even think about rummaging around in the pantry to find the cookie press until December 1.
Who cares if the cookies we gift our friends and family with are as appetizing to eat as playdough? The thrill is in the sharing and the offering of something we’ve made with love, the self-expression. In fact, the holidays often inspire us to express ourselves in other ways that we usually repress during the rest of the year.
For example, wearing sequins and sparkly tops. And earrings with little Santas on them.
And singing Christmas carols. And wearing Christmas sweatshirts, antlers, and goofy Santa hats, like the one that guy at the Pack’ N’ Mail was wearing yesterday with the jingly bell and the big spring on the op of his head.
In December, gaudiness is grand, and excess just feels right.
The real essence of Christmas is the gift it gives us of forcing us to rearrange our time and our priorities. Time to let down and let go. Time to sit down with the people we love.
Time to acknowledge that time is passing.
And time to acknowledge the people we care about who are passing through this short time with us. And who make the journey worthwhile.