There I was, Christmas eve, waiting in my grandmother's house for Santa's arrival. A brisk winter wind would usher the gnarled fingers from that craggy old oak, across a roof shingle or two. I would whisper over to my sister.
"Did you hear that?!"
I gasped, slipping from underneath the quilt, and padding to the window. I could feel the frigid breath of winter crystals kissing my cheek, through the leaky, creaky window sash, as I pressed on the glass, trying to purchase a glimpse.
"Shhhh! Quiet! Get back to bed!"My sister would caution me, reminding me that if Santa detected my awakened state, he would hurry off to the next house, leaving us unadorned by gifts. She was bigger, but none the wiser. She also reminded me that if I scared St. Nick off, she would quickly cast my broken body on her scales of sibling justice, for my curious folly.
To my relief, the next morning, there was that brand new box full of Tinkertoys, the Erector set or a dazzling box of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. Stumbling in excitement and pajamas, in the midst of the smell of Christmas morning bacon sizzling, hot buttered toast, steaming rich cocoa and pancakes, we would shower each other in the confetti of exhausted bows and paper. Gramps would have to shoo us into the television den, since our rough housing had upended Gram's ashtray, bringing a brief orange shower down on her seasoned wood floor, still fuming from an early wash of Murphy's Oil soap, wicking between the cracks.
How do you tell a Holiday story, so that it will last many years?
If a story is embedded in the ritual of tradition and it is bound tightly to the human senses, the story will be immune to variations in language, or the education of its recipients. The Jewish folks have a meal called the seder. It is an elaborate ritual of cleansing, unleavened bread and ritual, geared towards the remembrance of Exodus. It does not matter what language is spoken during the exercise. The story is elaborately told by the sounds, the smells, the tastes and the timing.
As I get older, the things I cherish about Christmas are those very things that make tradition so important to people. I don't care much about gifts these days. The sounds, the tastes, the ornaments, music and gentle touches of the holiday mean much more to me now. Apparently, there was no brainwashing, in spite of years of exposure to consumerism.
Every year I inevitably join a discussion regarding the materialism and consumerism of Christmas. I know it's a popular theme here in Massachusetts, where everybody likes to pontificate on the evils of Walmart and Costco. Of course, they quickly bring the evil corporate bonus they received down to Walmart and Costco, to buy all those toys and gifts at bargain prices. Whenever a particular brand of criticism becomes too popular, much like a stock, I begin to think that it is time to get out of the market.
Is Christmas more commercial? Probably.
Are people trying to remove the original meaning from Christmas? Definitely.
Is the commercial aspect of the Christmas holiday wholly responsible for the decline in Christmas spirit?
Not really, in my humble opinion. I think secular hostility, political correctness and the destruction of the family dynamic, are the guilty parties. If you strip away a good deal of the real underlying Christmas spirit, what remains? The gift giving stands alone. It is easy to judge what is left over. It is easy to blame the leftovers, for any moral decline we now witness. If people are giving, merely out of the guilt of obligation, for generic Holiday theatrics, the meaning, behind the giving, is empty.
I know many people never grow out of selfishness. I know many people have painful Christmas holiday memories, often brought on by self-imposed emotional obligations. I have been through enough of those years, sometimes ruined by my own selfishness. It's all part of accepting the perpetual imperfection of our lives, I suppose.
Ultimately, isn't selflessness and human imperfection the lesson taught to us, by the human being who's name and birth are celebrated every Christmas?