Merry Christmas, everyone! In the United States, Christmas is probably the biggest holiday we have, even though not everyone is a Christian. To be honest, it’s not that Christian a holiday, even though we keep trying to make it one. Io, Saturnalia!
Like most holidays, it ticks all the boxes:
- Boost to the economy / materialistic angle
- Family gathering and food
- Cultural traditions that are common among households and retail outlets
- National recognition which means for many people, time off work
- Undue burden on women in terms of coordination and emotional labor
This year, thanks to a craniotomy followed by multiple DVTs in my left leg, I’ve been in and out of the hospital since early November, and mostly housebound during an extended recovery period, making my feelings about the holidays hovering between resentment and ambivalence due to that last bullet; if it’s holiday related and I’m not personally overseeing it or nagging it into existence, it’s not going to happen. Several traditions have been casualties to this over the years, though. This year it was health that caused that, but other years I had business trips or we had personal travel. There are always things pulling at our time, even when we are relatively ambulatory and don’t have staples in our skull.
Most years, our family tradition for Christmas has included traveling somewhere. Sometimes that’s been a fun trip to the Great Barrier Reef, New Zealand, London or the Caribbean. Other times, it’s just a trip to spend time with my in-laws. It almost always means we are either not home on Christmas Day or that we fly out that day. We always do our presents on Christmas Eve (which was my parents’ tradition also), or if we are traveling on that day also, we pick a day and declare it our family Christmas.
So, what’s to resent about a holiday? Well, plenty. There’s putting up and decorating the tree, the nativity scene, outdoor decorations, planning food, having visitors or extended family, buying and wrapping presents that people actually want but that also might be a surprise to them (and not just a lame gift card), buying gifts for neighbors or co-workers and employees, planning and executing family photos for Christmas cards (updating addresses, then buying stamps and sending them all out in plenty of time), buying stocking stuffers and candy or other treats, and arranging travel (airbnb, flights, rental car, plans with friends). Add to all that the fact that our business has some contractual obligations that must be done on Christmas day, but no employees willing to work it, placing undue burden on us as owners (and our immediate staff) to cover in a last minute pinch, even with a flight out of town later in the day.
Whew! With that long list, I feel like I’ve strayed into Frank Costanza’s Airing of the Grievances from his Festivus tradition!
But even if I weren’t the one relegated to the role of coordinating decorations and gifts (both of which are responsibilities I take very lightly if I’m honest), I could complain about the money spent, or family time (if I didn’t look forward to this), or the lost income to our business, or the needless and seemingly endless calories. I’m always up for complaining about the freezing cold weather and gray skies in Salt Lake, especially when it was in the 70s here in Scottsdale last week.
When we lived in Singapore, we loved that as a multi-cultural country, all major religions had nationally recognized holidays–and everyone celebrated all of them: Christianity got Good Friday and Christmas Day, Muslims had Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji (neighbors would give each other traditional hari raya cookies), Buddhism had Vesak Day and Chinese New Year, and Hindus had Deepavali. There were also national-driven holidays for Labour Day, National Day, and New Year’s Day, and there was a lot of fun around Halloween which wasn’t a recognized holiday, but Singaporeans loved creating spooky themed attractions and dressing up like zombies or other phantasmagorical creatures. The American School our kids attended also recognized the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which we also recognize in our Scottsdale school calendar.
My favorite Singaporean Christmas tradition was the decorating of Orchard Road, the world class shopping district in central Singapore. Because the country is near the equator, the temperature is an invariable 90-ish degrees (and a similar humidity level). There’s no snow. Instead, the city has a bubble machine that makes the shopping area look like a snowscape. At the Marina Bay Sands complex, they even make a fountain into an ice skating rink. They go all out to make it a magical holiday for a tropical metropolis.
Each holiday is designed around a theme or idea, something we are supposed to think about as individuals and families, and as a society. On Veteran’s Day, we think about the sacrifices of those who served in the military, particularly those who died for our freedom. On Hari Raya Puasa, people celebrate the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting between sunrise and sunset, often accompanied by a 10 pound weight loss. Ramadan is an acknowledgement of gratitude for all the blessings we have from God. The end of Ramadan is gratitude that we can now eat again during the day! Plus, really amazing almond cookies. We made the mistake of going to Bangkok for Vesak Day weekend one year. Just like Christmas Day in the US, everything was closed! We wanted to see the emerald Buddha, but that’s not an option on the day his birth is celebrated. Rats.
Regardless the holiday, the point is psychologically similar: to create a shared sense of purpose, to reflect on a specific aspect of being human, to forge traditions that bond us, and to break up the monotony of our routine thoughts and actions.
Last week’s SNL with Eddie Murphy hosting (and 2018’s Christmas episode with Matt Damon) both poked fun at the way we come together during the holidays, showing a couple talking about how wonderful the holiday is, being gracious with one another, and then cutting to flashbacks of how awful and stressful it was to pull this holiday together. In this year’s Eddie Murphy stands to make a toast, acknowledging his beloved family, but showing how they all got on each others’ nerves for the last few days. That’s also part of the point of holidays: to give us a chance to focus on the positive because the holiday demands it of us. It demands that we stop and take stock of what we have. We don’t focus on the downsides of those things. Instead we let go of what’s bugs us for something bigger, what brings us together.
Merry Christmas to all. Here are a few questions to let you share in our community in the comments:
- What do you love most about Christmas?
- What do you like least about Christmas?
- What are the traditions you are carrying on for Christmas?