I decided long ago (in 1996) that Christmas couldn't be about pressure and spending and presents - it was about people and I wanted to keep it that way. Granted, I go through a period annually where I stress about what to give, about how much I did or didn't spend, will they like what I got them, did I do enough...but I also find my way out of it.
This year, at work, there was a woman in the break room having a conversation with a co-worker. Her family-in-law seems to be made of of people who are in the "big spender" must-have-lots-of-gifts category and she was feeling the stress of it due to the sheer number of people in that family. She has young children and some events have happened recently that would make it difficult to have a good Christmas for them, much less extended family and others. I nosed my way into the conversation and advocated for drawing names, letting the family know that they couldn't do the big Christmas, but that seemed like it wasn't possible for this family.
Then I remembered a gift that I gave that was not only a gift to the people who received it, but a gift to me. One year, a friend of mine and I bought a big jar and some fancy paper from the art store and cut it into small squares. On each square, we wrote down one memory about our parents. I did a jar for each of my parents, so memories of my mother and memories of my father. My father was not one for Christmas and could be very Grinch-like on the day itself. When he opened that gift and unfolded the first slip of paper, I knew I had done the right thing. All that Christmas day, he would sneak out another slip and read it. He kept the jar with him in his chair all day long and near his chair for months and months after.
I think at work they were also talking about what to give the kids' teachers - as even $10 each would add up with several children. The co-worker suggested a letter from each child to their teachers telling them how they felt about the teacher or thanking them for their work. I loved that idea...if I were a teacher, that is what I would want instead of gifts of apples and paperweights and other "duty" gifts.
I love Christmas because of how it SHOULD be, but I loathe Christmas as it is. I struggle every year because I see it in such a dichotomous way. I remember what it is supposed to be and I feel what it feels like now. I see such despair and stress. We have put what is supposed to be a joyous time and a time for family and friends and celebration at the end of the fiscal year, the end of a school term, the time of year when the weather is the worst, the time of year when cutbacks are made to save the bottom line. So we run around spending money we don't have on people we don't care about. We get a Christmas bonus or we don't and we are either disappointed with the amount or disappointed that we didn't get one...
I could go on and on, but I won't. All of this is to say that I remembered a song that we sang in my 6th grade Christmas program. In addition to the DEEPLY RELIGIOUS Christmas program (I'll talk about that tomorrow), we sang, "Christmas is a Feeling". The lyrics are below:
"Christmas is a feeling, filling the air;
It's love and joy and laughter, of people everywhere.
Christmas is a feeling, bringing such good cheer,
It reaches out to touch you as the holiday draws near.
It's mistletoe and falling snow and candles burning bright
It's a baby in a manger on a cold winters' night.
It's glad noels and chiming bells and presents by the tree
It's the spirit of giving in you and in me.
But if Christmas is a feeling, filling the air
Then why oh why can't you and I
Try to make it last all year?"
It's a conundrum, ain't it? Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate. Peace to those of you who don't.