And a happy new year

    I love Christmas and the month leading up to it. It’s always been a time when I feel filled with a reserve of goodwill, cheer and optimism. I understand that the holidays can be depressing for some people, for a litany of reasons both significant and mundane. However, I find this sad form of navel gazing diametrically opposed to the spirit of the holiday season.

    It’s easy to be a cynic, especially at this crucial and scary point in history. Heck, most of us are, to some extent, 11 months out of the year. Shouldn’t there be one month when our thoughts turn to others, not ourselves?

    There is a reason that so many allegorical Christmas stories exist. Charles Dickens addressed it when he wrote A Christmas Carol. Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker touched on it. Sometimes people need an excuse to be nice to each other once in a while, or to recapture the innocence and imagination of childhood. In fact, author Geoffrey Rowell contends that it was Dickens’ book that helped shape the modern perception of Christmas as a family-oriented holiday that focuses less on the religious aspects and more on the concept that people should learn to be decent to one another.

    Some radical Scrooges might argue that rampant consumerism has robbed the holiday of its religious meaning, or even the secular spirit of the holidays that Dickens tried to promote. That is a very large load of bull plop on many levels. Parents warn their children that the pleasure of the season is in giving, not receiving, for a reason.

    Yes, it’s certainly true that Christmastime can be counted on for a significant economic boost. Stores get super busy, especially on the hellacious day of shopping following Thanksgiving. People spend money. But people spend money every day of the year, on both the essential and the frivolous.

    Go to your local mall this weekend and ask any shopper what the point of Christmas is and don’t be shocked when "spending money" isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. People spend money to give presents to those they care about because it’s a nice thing to do, not to line the pockets of corporate moguls.

    Most of my Christian friends tend to blame political correctness when I badger them about what they think is wrong with Christmas. They don’t want to hang their ornaments on a "holiday tree." They don’t want to go on "winter break." They know that Jesus, the guy who puts the Christ in Christmas, is being systematically removed from his own birthday bash. I don’t blame them for being more than a little miffed. But I’m also going to a great annual Hanukah party in a couple of weeks. ‘Tis the season.

    Christmas is a holiday ripe for individual interpretation. For some, Santa Claus and Rudolph are as important a Christmas tradition as the Nativity. It’s easy to be into the Christmas spirit when you’re a child. Sing some Christmas carols, make a couple of macaroni tree ornaments and all that’s left to do is show up on Christmas morning and count your haul under the tree.

    The challenge is when St. Nick goes to fantasy heaven along with fellow childhood fantasy luminaries such as the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. What’s left for the over-12 set?

    For me, it’s always started with the Christmas ornaments. We’ve got ornaments dating back to when my grandparents were children, all the way through my own childhood. The tree, always a noble fir, is a veritable family history lesson, steeped in tradition and charming kitsch.

    Living in suburbia for the majority of my life also gave me a fine appreciation for ridiculous Christmas light displays. How can you not fall in love with the Christmas season after seeing a mechanized Santa’s sleigh rocking back and forth over a couple million watts of lights capable of communicating with extraterrestrials?

    Of course it’s easy not to care at all if you aren’t Christian, and you have every right to be fed up with the hype. But the point of the season, the one that we can all benefit from, is that now is the time of the year to be nice to other people for no reason. Now is the time of the year to hold a door open for someone, smile more and be glad for what you have. Merry Christmas.