Patrick McKlevey | Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Remember the joy you used to feel at Christmastime? Remember the weeks and weeks of buildup, the list-making and tree-decorating and present-wrapping? Remember going to the mall to see Santa, remember always playing a shepherd or angel in the school pageant? Remember counting down the days until Dec. 25, sitting fireside with family and friends watching any of the hundreds of holiday specials that run around the clock?
This is what Christmas used to be. It used to be fun. It used to be everyone’s favorite time of year. It used to be a break, a respite from 11 months of monotony, a reminder that there’s still a little magic left in the world. This is what Christmas used to be — it isn’t always anymore.
Some of us find the whole thing annoying. Some of us don’t like the music or the sweaters or the snow. Most of us are just too busy. It’s understandable; finals are just around the corner. All that extra work — the shopping, the baking, the decorating — can be daunting. Couple the holiday’s time commitment with the added financial pressures, and no wonder many view Christmas as more of a burden than a celebration.
But I think it’s worth it.
It might not be the same as in our youths, but Christmas still means something to the world. Every year, for about 25 days or so, we do everything in our power to bring a little more happiness into our daily lives. Our most drab spaces are exalted with red and green, the dullest street corners become shimmering spectacles of light. Holiday music plays non-stop on radio stations, and you’re never more than a few channels away from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We connect with old family and friends, rekindling meaningful connections that everyday life had caused to fall by the wayside. Santa Claus returns to the popular consciousness, a figure that teaches children the importance of faith, responsibility and good behavior — and teaches adults that we don’t have to be the disinterested, selfish creatures we all too often let ourselves be.
And there is, of course, a more solemn meaning to the holiday. Sometimes it gets lost in the commercials and the twinkling lights, in the Santa Clauses and gift-giving. But that doesn’t make it any less there. At the heart of this overly-commercialized season is a story — one of the greatest stories ever told. It’s a story of love and compassion, of humble beginnings, of a king who came to save the world. It’s our pause in an admittedly hectic December. It’s our chance to remind ourselves the of grandeur and importance of what we are commemorating in the first place.
We need Christmas. We can be disillusioned with state of the world from January through November; we can be glib about our lives any other time. But not at Christmas. It’s when we break that awful habit; it’s when we see the world not as a failure but a place we can improve. It’s our chance to help those less fortunate than us, to give something meaningful to the people we care most about. Charles Dickens said it best: it’s “the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
That joy you used to feel at Christmastime — I promise you it’s still there. Embrace the season, and you’ll find it. Embrace the music and the movies and the gift-giving and the excess and, yes, the absurdity. I do my best to embrace it — in fact, I probably overdo Christmas, every single year. But when I consider everything the holiday gives to us, I actually don’t think I could ever begin to do enough. We should all overdo Christmas. It deserves everything we can give it.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.