Something is happening to Christmas, and, it seems, to other ways of celebrating the season as well. I am fortunate to have memories enough to cover a span long enough to observe changes, and there are certainly differences between what I notice now regarding Christmas and what my earliest memories are. Changes have occurred in time/pace, in commercialization and in connectivity.
The Christmas I knew in childhood was slower paced. There was still the work of preparing the celebration, but time was set aside to do those things, instead of their having to be interspersed with the increased end of year tasks at work, increased time spent on the computer, and the increased pace of time itself. There was time to bake (kids included), sit together around a table and craft works of gift wrap art, create a just right decoration for a tree, plan and create a special holiday meal, go for a drive and see beautiful light displays on homes and lawns, visit friends and attend holiday parties, and yes, even clean house! We had time to savor the experience. This has changed. Reduced time available now results in as much as possible being rushed to meet deadlines (will packages arrive before Christmas?). Often, the more pleasurable activities fall between the cracks. The slower pace, the savoring, is gone.
There was a time when a small gift, even a homemade one, was not only enough, but was appreciated as much as a larger one. People who could afford to do so still gave larger gifts, but giving the largest or most impressive gift was not the standard for all. The focus was not on the largest or most impressive gift, and children were taught that it is the thought that counts. It was also standard to do charitable giving, even if only donating to the Santa-costumed ringer of a bell. Now, responding perhaps to the frenzy of advertising that embellishes the season, the emphasis seems to be on how large or how much of a gift can be given to family or friends, and it is something of an art to find the best “deal” so it seems as if one is spending more than one really is. The show has become important. Malls are crowded, traffic is tripled, bouncy secular music encourages pedestrians to spend. Black Fridays become extended, and stores vie to sell as much as they can, in this season where people’s purses are open. Sometimes Christmas sales carry a store through an otherwise tamer year. It is not that everything is that way – there are still those who engage in simpler celebrations and/or give preference to charity, but increased commercialization has become the standard.
Christmas was once a time in which families connected physically in a member’s home, in which people gave each other sincere holiday greetings in the workplace, in which the holiday could be mentioned in schools. It was a time in which neighbors shared activities, be it only bringing a plate of cookies to the neighbors or sharing a pre-holiday dinner or a small holiday party with friends. Some neighborhoods even cooperated to create impressive light displays. Nowadays, families are scattered, and finances and lack of leave from work prevent many from making the journey to gather together. Pre-holiday meals and small parties are often some of the pleasurable items that fall through the cracks of increased rushing. Some activities still take place within strong church communities, but interaction and connection in churches is also diminishing, in favor of those who attend worship services and then go their own ways. The sense of connectedness, of wonder, of rejoicing either religiously at the celebration of Jesus’ birth, or simply rejoicing that the sunlight has quit waning and is now beginning to increase – this is becoming absent. Time for self-examination and renewal has been lost in the fragmentation accompanying the rush and commercialization.
If one can remember, it is certainly possible to bring the best of what was and combine it with the best of what is, to create ongoing traditions that nourish and connect us. I have talked about Christmas, because it is what I remember. I do believe that the changes I have noticed are not limited to Christmas. They are broader, societal ones, which I am guessing will also affect celebrations of Hanukkah, of Solstice, of Diwali, of Eid when it cycles through the winter, of whatever form, specific or general, affects one during the season. For each, it is also possible to remember, to bring the best of what was, combine it with the best of what is, and create something of lasting responsiveness to deeper human needs.
I wish for all of us, young and old, male and female, alike and different together, time to self-examine, heal, create beauty and nourish each other. May we take notice of those who suffer and reach out in compassion to help. May we take the best of what was, combine it with the best of what is, and each in our own way begin to create a kinder, more loving world.