We tend to identify Christmas in innumerable ways.
At its religious core, it is the epitome of major Christian holidays — a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the dawning of Christianity, itself. It holds both spiritual and historical significance in nearly every corner of the world, and those who identify themselves as Christians often view the holiday as the ultimate celebration of faith, love, charity and peace — the basic tenets attributed to the teachings of Jesus as we know them.
And while there is no questioning the commercialization of the holiday we have seen play out before us, we also still see those basic beliefs play out before us during the Christmas season. There are massive displays of faith, examples after examples of people being genuinely kinder to one another, a noticeable uptick in charitable contributions as the season approaches and a collective desire for peace.
It does, in short, bring out the very best of us in many different ways.
However, there are other ways we identify the Christmas season that maybe don’t subscribe to those very basic messages. We see it play out with a massive mob-mentality during “Black Friday” shopping expeditions across our fruited plains. We see opportunistic people stock up on the “hot” gift of the year, and then gouge people online for higher prices.
We hear about rising suicide rates during the holiday season as people face depression over their finances or family situations. And we read more and more news reports of thieves who stake out neighborhoods with the idea of swiping presents off people’s doorsteps after they’ve been delivered.
So, yeah, that’s the rotten part of the Christmas season.
Somewhere between the idealistic and pure principles of the religious birth of the holiday and the bottom-hitting depths of the depressing side of Christmas are the other ways in which we identify the Christmas season.
For instance, there are traditions. My family had its own every Christmas season, and when I close my eyes and think of Christmases past, it is often a sea of family memories that come flooding back when I think back on some of these customs.
Christmas Eve was always a big day for the McCanns, and it continues to be to this day. We would all go to a family movie together, followed by a Chinese dinner. When we got home, the family would all change into pajamas, share one gift with one another while we drank eggnog or punch and listened to Christmas music together.
There weren’t fights between kids, and parents were no longer stressing about the financial crunch of Christmas. It was just a family spending time together, smiles spreading widely under the glow of lights on the tree and a flatulating dog spread out in front of a fireplace, while Johnny Mathis or Dory Previn serenaded us with Christmas cheer.
It was probably the best day of the year for our family every year, and I’m not saying that in any way to discount Christmas, itself. It was just OUR day, and it was OUR time together.
Of course, I could be seeing that through the glasses of time. Obviously, Christmas morning was spectacular, as well, and probably meant more to me when I was a kid than the boring old family stuff of Christmas Eve. But looking back, with the advantage of a little wisdom built up over the years, it was Christmas Eve that held our family’s magic.
And that is something I hope continues on for generations to come.
Of course, it’s really hard to think of Christmas without coming back to the music. I have a good friend I grew up with who insists that it’s not officially the Christmas season until he hears the Temptations sing “Silent Night” on the radio. It doesn’t count if he plays it on a CD or digital version. It must be played on the radio, and he must have been there to hear it himself, or it does not count.
And I accept that.
For me, it’s hearing Bruce Springsteen sing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” that drives home the holiday. Oh, I still love “Jingle Bells” and all the other classics, but the Boss makes it Christmas for me. Well, that and seeing Flick get his tongue stuck to a frozen pole.
Everyone who celebrates Christmas has his or her favorite holiday movie, and mine is unquestionably, “A Christmas Story.” From the leg lamp to the tempermental furnace to Ralphie cussing on the side of the road, I never get tired of watching this year after year. That’s not to say it’s my only beloved film of the holiday, as I also rarely miss out on viewing “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Scrooged” and, yes, “Die Hard.”
But “A Christmas Story” will always lead the way for me.
Spirituality, family, song, food and film are all part of our collective Christmas experience every year. It is a time to celebrate those around us, remember those who have left and basically revel in all that is supposed to be good around us.
For a while in my adult years, I lost focus of all that is good about Christmas. I allowed myself to suffer mentally over the financial and travel stress, as well as grow hardened to the over-commercialization of the day. It was still fun to be with family, and, really, who doesn’t like opening a gift from a loved one? But I was missing that Christmas magic that had filled my heart as a youth.
But life throws us curveballs, and it threw me a major one with the birth of our daughter a little more than two years ago. She has brought the magic back to Christmas for me.
Merry Christmas, one and all. I truly hope you find your magic.