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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

The Occasional Muse
My humble opinion on current events

November 30,  2002

Now It's Christmastime

Yesterday, as millions of toilets flushed away the remnants of Thursday's turkey feast in that last, great, unheralded Thanksgiving tradition, our attention properly turned to Christmas.

Christmas can be a real pain, especially if you have kids and a big family, or have to travel. A crushing plethora of tasks must be done by December 25, in addition to the usual everyday chores.

There are Christmas cards to select, buy, sign, address, stamp, and mail. Decorations to unpack, sort, test, and display. Outdoor lights to test, unwind, and hang up. Malls to endure to buy gifts for everyone in the family. Cookies, cakes, and pies to bake and decorate. Stockings to stuff. Trees to trim. Garland to garnish. Packages to priority mail. 

If you have kids, there are school Christmas parties (now called holiday or winter celebrations, of course), school gift exchanges, school plays, Christmas arts and crafts, and clever hiding places to stow the gifts. If you and your family are involved with church, there are church activities like concerts, cantatas, and more crafts and gift exchanges, not to mention volunteer work, like decorating the church.

Naturally, there are consequences. During the season to be jolly, tempers grow short and explode, stress levels rise, blood pressure skyrockets, and most tragically of all, suicides increase for those who see no magical cheer at Christmas. 

So, the question must be asked - why is this everyone's favorite time of year?

For Christians, that answer is obvious. Christmas is the birth of the Savior. Jews celebrate Hanukah. But even people of other faiths and no faith often partake in the secular fruits of Christmas - the tree, the gifts, and so on. It is the rare creature, a real-life Scrooge, who does not love Christmas. Why?

This may seem like an obvious question. This is the season for true love and fellowship and peace on earth and all that. But is it really? How much peace is there at the mall parking lot? How much love for your fellow man is there in the checkout lanes? How many people, even those who adore Christmas, are relieved when it's finally over? Just about everyone, I'd guess. So why do we put ourselves through this annual ordeal? A few reasons, I think.

First, the Christmas atmosphere is unique and different from the rest of the year, for an extended length of time. For the whole month of December, the cultural landscape is transformed by bright happy lights and festive decorations. No other national holiday or event can match this display. What better way to beat the Christmas crunch than to spend a night driving around town and enjoying Christmas lights?

Second, let's face it, we all like to get stuff. Kids especially love Christmas because of the delicious and unbearable anticipation of Christmas morning and ripping open the gifts. Even adults, though few admit it, still enjoy opening their presents. I know I do.

But getting stuff and Christmas decorations aren't sufficient reasons, in my opinion. Christmas is more than that. We all love Christmas because we give stuff. We endure the malls and the agony and the torture because we want to spend our time and money on other people, from our closest loved ones to strangers in a soup kitchen. We adopt families and select a gift from the Angel tree because, even in this age of cynicism and self-centeredness, we still realize that helping those in need is the right thing to do.

Many have lamented the commercialization of Christmas. Other than starting much too soon, I have little problem with it, because it expresses our desire to give to others. By offering huge sales and deep discounts, businesses participate and spread the Christmas spirit of giving by making it easier to do so.

We love Christmas because, deep down, we love and respect each other, even if we sometimes forget in the mall parking lot.

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