Christmas as viewed through the lens of television is a distortion.
Strip away the red-ribbon-wrapped cars awaiting lucky spouses in the driveways of perfect colonial homes.
Avert eye contact with the too-perfect tables of festive foods that glisten while Grandma smiles beatifically. These snowfall-covered tableaux aren’t real in any way that a typical person experiences.
The stretch of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day can be a hyperstressful blur of socializing, money pressure, travel, cooking and evocation of the most profound and basic human emotions: family and love.
Many businesses’ yearly sales and success rise and fall on Christmas. Hanukkah falls right before, New Year’s immediately after Christmas. More often, to be generic, people just say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”
So what’s the typical Christmas? There isn’t one. There never has been one. Is it “The Night Before Christmas” or “A Christmas Carol”? Is it the Salvation Army bell ringers or the overconsumption of eggnog and overpurchasing of possessions?
Is it going to services in a candlelit church on Christmas Eve, or is it going to a movie and having Chinese food on Christmas Day? Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman? Is it Santa Claus or Jesus? Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole or Burl Ives singing Christmas songs?
Yes. All of that.
Christmas is a mirror where we all see what we want or need to see, and sometimes many of us don’t see what we want to see. At all.
Sometimes there are things we can’t see.
For all the plenty, all the love, all the singing, all the eating, all the congregation in churches, there is a vast number of people for whom Christmas is a truly emotional ordeal.
They are ill, separated, divorced, away from families or have traumatic memories of ruined holidays. This perhaps is where the real spirit of Christmas is most needed.
If you have a relative, a friend or a neighbor in pain, reach out in some way. The smallest gesture can be the greatest Christmas gift.
When we think about Christmas, we remember a specific family gathering, the toy you got, the hug from a long-gone loved one, a snippet of a song from long ago, a service you attended, a glow you got from some tiny slice of what you know as the holiday spirit.
We can’t define Christmas for you. Those who choose to celebrate it carry it in some vestigial way throughout the coming year, and we hope that those memories are warm and comforting to you.
We also hope that you experience new, wonderful moments for future reverie. If they are not, we wish you some peace on Earth.