Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? Me? I’m in quiet (not silent, cuz here I am blogging about it) peaceful protest. Still, I can hear the bells tolling on Santa’s sleigh; from around the necks of his jolly crew of reindeer; on the shoes of his hard-working elves; from cash registers near and far. I wish forever and a day this holiday of Christmas was held in sacred accord with religious vows and values. That it wasn’t about what Santa wraps and leaves in secret under the tree. That it wasn’t about glorifying the acquiring of a bunch of stuff we don’t need. That it wasn’t about lying to our children.
It isn’t stuff we’re short on. Time and un-distracted presence is what we’re collectively lacking. Both are free; priceless.
This morning, I had a doctor’s appointment. The young woman who led me back to the exam room asked: Are you ready for the holidays? In a light, friendly tone I said: Whelp, I don’t celebrate, so, yep! Then she said: Oh, that’s good – it’s a lot less stress that way…a lot! Her tone implied that she herself was under a lot of holiday stress. It was then I wondered (assuming she wasn’t celebrating for religious reasons) if she knew it was a choice. I was once again confronted with the question that arises for me often: do people know that their life is a series of choices? Why is it that people heap certain burdens onto them self they don’t enjoy? Obligation I guess. Habit.
My husband and I intentionally opted out of celebrating Christmas many years ago, back when my now 20-year-old stepson was just a little tyke. We sent our family a well-crafted letter letting them know of our decision and to request they stop sending us gifts. I have fond memories of celebrating Christmas growing up. My mom and my dad made it very special for me in their separate, respective households. Having a split family, I would have two Christmas mornings in two different places: one with my mom and one with my dad. What kid doesn’t want two Christmas mornings?! Two decorated trees packed with gifts underneath; two bulging stockings hanging on the mantle. I would then get carted off to my paternal grandparents home, where family gathered and food and more presents were enjoyed. Then I’d be dropped back off with my mom, to venture to someone’s home on her side of the family for dinner. It may sound like a lot of back and forth but it never struck me as odd or jarring. It’s what I knew and I enjoyed seeing both sides of the family in one day.
But some things remain in the past and don’t get carried forward. And for me, one of those things is Christmas.
Recently, I overheard a conversation had by some folks I was volunteering with for a community memorial event. Someone mentioned how they’d read an article directing parents that if they were going to tell their kids Santa was real, they would do well to relegate only one or two inexpensive items to be given in Santa’s name. That way, when kids go back to school, there isn’t a value judgement placed on the kids who acquired big expensive gifts from ole Saint Nick and those who got less flashy presents. Someone else shared about how when they were young, their friends who received less expensive items from “Santa” truly thought they had simply been less well-behaved and weren’t as good as the other kids who got bigger gifts. My heart broke when I heard this. Of course they didn’t think they were as good as the other kids! The Christmas energy created for kids is steeped in being naughty or nice and being rewarded for such behavior with gifts, or lack thereof. Gosh, how come I’ve never thought of this dynamic before?! I thought to myself.
I was the one who told the truth about Santa to my stepson. Even though his dad and I didn’t celebrate, he celebrated Christmas in the traditional ways with his mom. I knew she might be sore at me. But while I’ve always tried my best not to step on her toes, I just couldn’t perpetuate a lie to my son, especially in the name of consumerism. It’s one thing to foster a child’s imagination. It’s another thing all together to lie to them, telling them something is real when it isn’t.
I have mixed feelings about this holiday. I support wholeheartedly the drive to gather with friends and family. There’s part of me that thinks that that alone is enough reason to partake in this consumer driven holiday, despite the debt and the waste and the resources depleted. Were it not for certain holidays, many folks might drift away from their blood family all together. And there is great importance and magnitude in gathering together with our tribe of people. But then there is the debt accrued by so many; the waste generated; the resources depleted to consider. I don’t know.
What I do know is this: my practice is to unwind my harsh judgements in regards to the actions of others. My practice is to keep on loving people and extending kindness; to investigate my cynical nature that crops up from time to time and meet it with curiosity and gentleness.
And as always, I am a work in grateful progress.