Except for the periodic manic episodes caused by more than one daily venti skinny mocha, I’m a reasonably happy positive person. I’ve written numerous essays on gratitude and in general I have a thankful attitude.
But there are some issues about this season of the year that really tick me off and steal my hard won joy to the world. Here goes in no particular order.
1. I’m a Christian and Christmas is a Christian holiday. If I want to say Merry Christmas to other Christians, why does anyone care? If I know a friend celebrates the Festival of Lights, I’ll say Happy Chanukah. I am not going to wish anyone a Happy Festivus as it is a made-up holiday. (I know there are people who take “Seinfeld” as gospel, but that’s not my problem.)
This is my faith. This is what I believe. It’s not like celebrating, say, Arbor Day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, who was born in a stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Yes, I also realize there were palm trees instead of snow, and that Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25. And he was a Jew, and probably had dark skin. Now get over yourself and move on. And, by the way, Merry Christmas.
2. The Post Office seems unfamiliar with the concept of gift-giving. Today I accompanied my husband to the post office where we mailed four large packages and several mailing envelopes. Our village P.O. has three windows. Here’s a quiz: how many windows were open at noon six days before Christmas? If you said, “ONE,” you are correct! I cannot wait for that three-cent postage increase in 2014! And I’m so happy that we’re pre-funding all the retirements for people long after I’m dead. Next year: Smoke Signals for Christmas cards. And, by the way, I always mail my cards right after Thanksgiving, but I swear I’m never doing it again….. (Yes, it is ironic that I lack Christian charity in the mailing line.)
3. Regular Songs that Turn into Christmas Songs. Okay, this annoys me. When did “Celebrate Me Home” and “My Favorite Things” become Christmas songs? Why not just turn other songs into Christmas songs, like “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees?” Why not “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma? That’s a heckuva song. Makes no sense to me.
4. Most people say they hate holiday letters. People I send cards to fall into three camps:
- Respond with joy, glee, and jumping around to our Christmas letter, and send one in return, which I enjoy reading. I like knowing that you’ve become a Franciscan brother in your seventies, or climbed Denali, or managed to raise four children and get them out of the house, educated and into meaningful jobs. (All these are from actual 2013 holiday letters.)
- Send a card but only sign their names. How much work does it take to write “Stanley graduated from Harvard and Aunt Mabel was choked to death by a Burmese python?” Yes, I do believe there should be an exemption for those with arthritis hands.
- Don’t respond in any way whatsoever. No email. No card. No phone call. Nothing. My husband insists I used something called “The Three Year Rule,” which means that if a person hasn’t contacted us in three years, they are OFF THE LIST. No Christmas letter from us, no perky mid-year note, certainly NOT IN THE WILL. Off the list. Sometimes it is hard to accept; time passes and sometimes people just aren’t friends anymore. It’s really nobody’s fault, but it is sad and annoying.
5. The radio stations that play only the “novelty” Christmas songs. First of all, there’s a difference between a Christmas “song” and a Christmas “carol.” A carol is, I believe, a religious song such as “Adeste Fidelis” , while a song is a song like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or as I heard on an Evansville station this morning, “The Christmas Snake.” During any given season, the first time you hear “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” it’s funny. The next 346 times, not so funny.
6. The last one is pretty serious. Well, the first one was pretty serious as well. Death sucks. Cancer sucks. Heart disease and lung disease sucks. I’m 56 so I’ve known some loss, but I am astonished each year that goes by how many more people I know and love walk into the Light. The Light is a good place, I believe. But those who remain miss those who are gone, terribly. The high expectations set by the media and the holiday hype pound loss repeatedly into people’s heads like an anvil into the Roadrunner.
I’ve had multiple conversations with dear friends this year who have lost loved ones. No amount of preparation can ready a person for the loss of one so dear. And frankly, even if you have experienced great personal loss, it is very difficult to step into another’s shoes. Grief is like a thief in the night, stealing from hither and yon and different for every family.
The high expectations set for the holidays are wrong. That is not the message of Christmas. In the end, we won’t remember that we heard “Jingle Bells” by the Singing Dogs 187 times, or that we finally got our iPad this year, or that there was a long line at the Post Office.
What we remember is what is at the heart of the Christmas story — and that, my friends, is love. And love — unlike our frail human bodies — never dies. And there’s nothing Grinchy at all about that.
Merry Christmas. Move along now; nothing else here to see.