Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays

Yesterday, as I am wont to do, I ventured to my local comic shop and then crossed the street with my super-heroic bounty to read them at Starbucks.  Upon ordering my usual hot chocolate, the barista offered me a jolly "Merry Christmas" to go along with my beverage.  For half a second, I entertained indulging myself in an "I'm Jewish" simply for the sake of his reaction more than any offense.  I stopped myself because it only took that half-second to realize the man across the counter had given me more than perfunctory holiday greeting, he actually infused some spirit into it.  He was giving me his well-wishes, and with a smile, I thanked him and returned the sentiment.

It's been too often in recent years I've heard this debate raging over the proper greeting for others in this age of diversity awareness and political correctness.  Trying to force your viewpoint of the holiday season onto the way people act around you is wholly opposed to what this time is about.  No matter what you observe, be it a major holiday or minor observance or even nothing at all, you must acknowledge that this is a time, once a year, when people try to be a little kinder to one another.  For example, on the way to my girlfriend's house to spend time with her and her family for Christmas, I restrained myself from slowing down and flipping the bird while having brights flashed at me as I went 70 in a 55.  So, you know, little things.

The point being, no one owns this time of year.  The closeness of mankind which the holiday season espouses is about the whole of mankind - not just the sects of it which believe the same things you do.  When someone tells you "Merry Christmas" take it for what it is - well-wishing.  A sincere and honest hope that this time of year turns out well for you.  If you don't observe, so what?  Does that mean you should be offended that whoever told it to you hasn't taken into account that your religion doesn't overlap with theirs?  No, come on.  Be serious here.  By the same token, if someone tells you "Happy Holidays," don't insist they say "Merry Christmas."  Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and you can't insist that they do.  That's pretty contrary to the whole idea of inclusion and togetherness, isn't it? 

This time of year holds meaning to practically every major religion in the world.  Whether it be the necessity of community for survival in harsh months or actual divine intervention bringing about a reason for observance, winter has brought mankind together.  So the next time someone gives you some sort of seasonal greeting, be it "Merry Christmas," "Happy Holidays," or "Festive Solstice," appreciate the sentiment behind them if not the words themselves. 

Which is actually a pretty good segue way into my next point.  The spirit of this season, the whole notion behind it, is to be thoughtful.  The point of this entire time of year is thoughtfulness, but giving is a part of that as well.  In our commercialized society, we see this reflected in the influx of advertising from retailers trying to convince us that their hot ticket item is THE hot ticket item.  We buy into this exactly how we're supposed to, which leads to incidents like a Wal-Mart employee being trampled to death by shoppers breaking down the doors on Black Friday.  Indeed, that is hardly an isolated incident.  Even in cases not resulting in fatalities, the rage, jealousy, and greed which accompanies this time of year does a disservice to the holiday spirit.

There's no restraint in our culture, no sense of morality infused with our need to have things.  The truth is that the spirit of giving really doesn't matter much if you do it without thought behind it.  I was more thrilled by a set of pencils my girlfriend gave me for Hanukkah than any latest video game or other expensive trinket she could have offered me because she laid out her entire gift scheme to be one showing forethought and planning.  She took time to do more than look at something she'd seen advertised somewhere and say "boy, commercialized America makes me think David would really like this."  She saw the work I've been doing over at The Backlog (the finest blog about unplayed video games which also has comics on the internet today) and, through her gifts, let me know she supports me every step of the way. 

Giving is not about procuring some hard-to-obtain item.  It is not about flaunting your wealth or generosity.  The idea of giving a gift is about putting thought behind it, in saying through some small gesture or token that you listen to what your gift-receiver is saying, you pay attention, and you believe in and support them.  Holidays are about faith in a higher power, but in giving we can show our faith in one another.  Now don't get me wrong, there are some great gadgets and toys out there which would make a lot of people happy to own.  However, the thing commercialism has taken from us the most in this respect is our creativity, our thoughtfulness.  Instilled in us instead is the idea that spending enough money will somehow make everybody happy. 

Holidays are about togetherness.  They're a time for family, friends, and loved ones.  Whether you're in church, at home, or at the movies, we seek to be with others at this time.  That makes us happy.  What lifts our spirits and infuses us with the joy of the season is the people around us and the things they do and we do for them.  Gifts are an accentuation, a supplement, not a dire need.  Sometimes, just the sincere wish of "Happy Holidays" can get the job done.  If you want to show you care in a deeper way, it doesn't take waiting in line at 4AM to get into a store (though I've had people do that twice for me now and I hope they know I did appreciate it).  It doesn't take an extravagant gesture or flashy gift.  It just takes some thought, something you know you'll love to give as much as they will love to receive.

And finally, I'd like to share the one special prayer I made while attending Midnight Mass.  I had no real desire to go to church, and, as I expected, I felt terribly out of place being the lone Jew in a gathering dedicated to the birth of Jesus.  An unfair circumstance, now that I think about it, as Jesus himself had at least two others present at the actual event.  In any event, my girlfriend has a deep and abiding faith which I greatly admire, and she let me know it would mean a lot to her if I came along.  So I went, and while I was there I put aside the issue of faith and belief and the disappointed look I knew my mother was affecting 500 miles away without knowing why, and I just listened to the choir.  I had gone there primarily just to hear her sing, but there's something about a choir I always love.  The principle is the same across many genres, spiritual or non; voices raised together in harmony sound bigger, better, stronger than a single voice.  And I know that even as these people are all united in their faith, they are divided by other aspects of life.  They might have different upbringings, different jobs, different sports teams or life goals or political beliefs, but when singing, that all stops mattering.  When you raise you voice with others, the power of it, the physically palpable wave of sound which washes over you, brings people together.  That, I believe, is what the spirit of the holidays feels like.

So, as I sat inside the church, prayers and hymns I'm unfamiliar with echoing around me, I offered up one simple message to the Lord.

"God," I said, "thank you for Alison.  And Merry Christmas."

He knows I'm Jewish and don't celebrate, but somehow I don't think that matters.

1 comment:

B.Graham said...

There is something beautiful and deeply spiritual about human voices raised in harmony.

Also: there were several gifts my mom carefully orchestrated this year, which involved each member of the family in some way, like asking my animator brother to touch up a faded or grainy design to go on a tshirt, or asking me to provide a portion of my wealth of pictures for a calendar that went out to everyone in the extended family, and those gifts were hands down everyone's favorites.