We are in the last countdown to the holiday season whether you celebrate Christmas, Yule, or Kwanzaa, this last week will be a busy prelude to that sudden full stop, that day of quiet streets and closed doors, the silence outside only window dressing to the happy activity inside.
Unless, of course, you celebrate Hanukkah, in which case your hustle and bustle is at an end. Or perhaps you don’t celebrate any winter holiday, and the day is just like any other except you can’t get your morning Tim’s. And let’s not forget that there are far too many people who would love to celebrate, but do not have either the family or funds to do so. Luckily, this is a great time of year for exercising those charitable instincts as well.
For those of us with children, Christmas takes on a different meaning. Once the receivers, we are now the ones responsible for creating seasonal magic, and I admit I'm not as good as I should be. Our tree stands halfdecorated (but will be finished today, honestly), we only put up about half the Christmas lights, I still haven’t figured out my baking list, and I’m not even sure what presents I have stashed away. I start scouting out possible gifts in September and gather things as they go on sale, which is great for our budget, but this gentle grazing approach doesn’t fit in too well with my tendency to forget almost everything.
I come by it honestly. Every year, my mother would spend January and February discovering presents she had poked away and handing them over to their intended recipients with an apology. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have to take out all the gifts to wrap them, I’d be just as surprised as the kids to see what they got on Christmas morning.
And there will be, of course, a lot of presents on Christmas morning. Looking at them all, it's easy to understand the argument that Christmas has become too commercial. However, I think the answer isn't so straightforward. The act of giving is a joyous thing to see in action, and I’m sure that most of us could name ten people who emphasize love, family, and generosity for every one person who is in it for the swag. My daughter loves Christmas, and though she is excited and happy about the presents she receives, it’s the idea of Christmas that keeps her looking forward to the next one. It’s the special baking, the family dinners, the laughter and anticipation and fun that she really loves. She gets just as excited about giving presents as receiving them, and I’m happy to say her little brother is following in her footsteps. Christmas and its fellow winter holidays perform a valuable function, especially considering many people celebrate them as cultural events more so than religious ones.
The holidays force us to that full stop, carving out a time in our busy lives when we must, of necessity, put down our work and the business of everyday life and truly see what we have around us. Setting aside a time makes us plan for it as the celebration of life that it is, turning our minds to that voice that says: “quiet now, and prepare to give and receive”. The true gifts we give our children are not those that can be wrapped. They are the ability, the intention, and the enthusiasm with which we abandon the streets and businesses on that special day, and give everything over to that celebration of life and each other.
If a set of Lego or a new doll or a warm sweater can help us to create more joy, thoughtfulness, and enjoyment on that one day a year when we come to a full stop then I don’t begrudge a penny. I hope all your holiday celebrations bring you that moment of peace and appreciation. Happy Holidays!
Susan Whistler is a local writer and co-creator of the children's book, "The Great Crow Party." She enjoys her family, walks by the ocean, and perfectly placed apostrophes. She can be found online at www.susanwhistler.com. ‘