Christmas is in full swing. Inventories are stocked for retailers, the garlands are hung, Christmas trees are up, and all the most tempting flavors are offered at every store, restaurant, and market. The smell of pine and sweet cinnamon waft throughout the merchant halls, from freshly baked goods, scented candles, and pine cones. Packages are so creatively displayed in store windows with poinsettias arranged on shelves or set out in doorways to greet us. Twinkly lights are wrapped around railings and light-posts, dangle along rooftops, and reflect off eyes and windows that stare back at them, yet there seems to be a darkness that swirls around this time of year. It’s that time of year when everyone gets what they want, but nobody gets what they need.
I’ve never not had family or a place to go to during the holidays. Quickly following Thanksgiving, a Christmas logistics plan starts to unfold. My mom’s family prioritizes the traditional extended family gathering. My dad’s mom has always been willing to host Christmas any year as well. I have too many options! For many people, this is not so. They spend the holidays alone because they don’t have family or they are isolated from loved ones because of work or unfortunate circumstances. We all see and walk by the people who go without food or shelter on Christmas, and most of us look past or even through them as we go into stores to ‘check off’ our lists to buy for people who don’t need another piece to feed the avarice. There are elderly people sitting alone in nursing homes, there are children in orphanages, and there are outcasts unwelcomed to the seasonal parties. Can we gift our time and forgo the thoughtless gifts? Can we use our energy and resources to bring hope to the hopeless, the downtrodden, the forgotten, the abandoned?
Where is the hope we sing about in Christmas carols? Corporate America uses the notion of hope to manipulate us all into spending all our money on what doesn’t matter instead of giving to what matters. If we used the time it takes to drive through traffic, scurry through the maddening stores, wait in line with disgruntled people, and sift back out the door to research the needs of our neighborhoods and communities or within the families we have, how different would this world be? How hopeful this season could be. By making a small change in our lives, we would inspire hope into the hearts of those who desperately need it around us, or maybe that we need within ourselves. Inviting that grouchy neighbor over for a meal, or a cup of hot chocolate, or even forgoing the spending on what we think others want, or not taking advantage of the latest deal because it is the season of holiday deals and bargaining.
This is that time of year of high stress, anxiety, and depression that most people don’t want to talk about but many suffer through. Knowing this season one must face family members who view the world differently, who won’t listen and can’t healthily help you wrestle through doubts, fears, or even worries. Or you have the awkward work Holiday party where you have to mingle with people who remind you why anxiety and fear exist in the world. My counselor said she saw 50 people the week of Thanksgiving who had anxiety and fear over meeting with family members of a different political perspective. Have we really put our ideals over relationships? Have we really allowed our politics to rule over the act of love—listening and empathizing with others? The holidays aren’t always merry and bright, so we all need to step back, listen and pause for those who don’t see, hear, or experience hope in this season. If you find yourself drowning in the esthetics of the season, where there’s a whole lot of pressure to wrap up the gifts and “don the gay apparel,” but not enough Bob Cratchit spirit, and you feel you’re climbing slowly up the slope toward Grinch-syndrome, know that you can say no and change the trajectory of this Christmas (and all the next ones to come).
Buy hopeful gifts, or forgo gifting at all. You can ask your friends and family to donate to an organization to help those in need instead of giving you something you won’t use. Ask them if they actually lack anything this year, and if instead they would like to donate. You can gift experiences to create memories that last, or bake thoughtful food items for those who have dietary needs. You can enlist your family to support causes that bring hope into the world. (like this one.)
Instead of the obligatory Christmas gatherings and parties, host your own and invite those who are uninvited. Don’t want to host? Plan before or after Christmas at an event space, in the park or a restaurant, or join an organization that has already worked out the details. You don’t have to be around the toxicity of those who drag you down and into the dark hole of hopelessness, instead you can step into a bright cause that can change someone else’s life. That work party is mandatory? Bring a gift, show your face, and duck out early.
Make time to listen to others. Try to meditate on the beauty of this season, and know that it’s okay to not love Christmas. It’s a season that is meant to represent the most life-altering gift of Love we can’t even fully comprehend. Instead, it’s been twisted and formed into a commercialized machine that stampedes throughout every aspect of reality until December 26th. If anything, may it inspire you to find time for community and connection which is, after-all, what we really need.