Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Stress, Wars, and Spirit

(News-Herald, December 18) The final stretch before Christmas is a time to settle back and really think about the meaning of stress.
Usual Christmas stress is a personal thing. It’s one of those take stock type of holidays that can make us panic, like learning that the News-Derrick is coming to take pictures of all the rooms in our house. There’s nothing like a holiday built around idealized images of home and family to help us really remember how non-ideal our actual homes and families are.
That kind of personal stress is old hat. The last decade has added a sort of community stress. It’s not enough to make sure that our own Christmases are perfect—now we have to make sure that everyone else is celebrating properly as well.
The so-called Christmas wars are only the most ridiculous manifestation of that. On the one hand we have retailers desperately trying not to alienate anyone (or their money) and behaving as if Holiday Season were a natural cultural event when it’s simply the result of ever-expanding marketing ploys, only slightly more deep than Swimsuit Season.
On the other hand, we have People of Alleged Faith insisting that Jesus deserves a place of honor in the appliance aisle. The notion that a Christian nation would throw itself into the celebration of Christmas would appall our most pious founders. The Puritan’s handled Christmas celebrants by putting them in the stocks, chastising them severely, and throwign them out of town.
I suspect that some people desire to have Christmas recognized commercially to salve the conscience. Maybe a lot of religious-ish signage will help me feel as if shopping for plastic doo-whingies actually has something to do with the birth of Christ.
But this year, even mindless economic activity is an uncomfortable pursuit. Just as we were (mostly) applauding ourselves for the coolness of Democracy, along come brutal reminders that much of our fate is in the hands of people that we don’t get to vote on. There is no election for stupidly stubborn corporate executives or selfishly dimwitted financial wizzes, and yet these bozos have put our collective future on the line without so much as a by-your-leave.
So the usual joyous spending spree is overshadowed by a vague financial uncertainty, adding more soggy fuel to a sputtering fire.
I have talked to people who, in the face of all this, despair of finding any joy in the season. Eternal optimist that I am (really, stop snickering), I believe it can be done.
I believe it can be done because, first, I believe we have rarely actually done it in the past. Too many people, when discussing the Joy of Christmas are talking about a fake plastic joy, a childish belief that we can have it all and pay no cost.
We like to talk about how this is the season where everyone can show love and kindness to his fellow man. Baloney, say I. Mostly it’s the season in which folks strike a short-term deal: you will act as if you like me, and I will act as if I believe you.
And then someone inevitably says, “If only it could be Christmas all year round.” Well, if it were Christmas as we Americans celebrate it all year round, we could raise the stock market back up on the strength of prozac sales alone.
But let’s turn that notion around. Instead of a hopeless wish to extend the imaginary state of manufactured Christmas grace to the rest of the year, let’s imagine what we really wished the rest of our year looked like, and then plant the flag of THAT bold conquest in the soil of this one day.
Do you have hopes and dreams for what you wish your life looked like? Don’t focus on what you fear it should be like; make this the season that you commit to those hopes and dreams.
Do you have relationships you want to mend or strengthen? Make this the season for starting the real work instead of faking it.
We can spend this season stressing about what we’ve lost, what we don’t have, where our world comes up short. Or we could focus on what we can build, how we can grow. When the plastic wears out, we have a chance to go for something real. This is the part of the story before the manger, in which conditions are far less than ideal, but nevertheless, there is still a beautiful new life waiting to be born.


Jenny Fortel said...

Amazingly put!! Thank you.

Joe said...

God bless us, every one. And to think some might label this treacle.

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