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I remember December 26th as one of the worst days of my childhood years. No one sneaks into your living room to hide presents under the tree on that day. All the anticipation and excitement leading up to Christmas suddenly fades into nothing more than a torn-up pile of wrapping paper and instructions to put whatever Santa had brought--whether wished for or not--away. I'd image my parents felt a similar letdown. Plus, not only did they have to contend with my post-holiday whining and my week's-vacation boredom, they had to deal with the leftovers and dusty decorations.
Even today, all the shopping, cooking, decorating, and wrapping seems to culminate into a quick minute followed by a calculation of debt. That's because, when we hinge satisfaction on material things, we set ourselves up to be let down. It's part of the consumer design: to always leave us wanting more.
Looking back on this December, what HAS been satisfying is the fact that I reconnected with friends, reminisced with family, and gathered with others to sing songs, pray for peace, admire decorations, and genuinely wish each other well. Even for those who were lonely on Christmas, satisfaction could be found in the wallowing, for Christmas was one occasion in which they could be free of the facade and simply be truthful to themselves. They were allowed to think of loved ones lost. They were allowed to be sad. Real emotions from real people with no price tag attached.
Yes, we've been setup, but that doesn't mean we have to fall for it. Yes, anticipation is 9/10s of what makes Christmas so fun, but we don't need presents for that. Consider that, for the Christians responsible for this mega-holiday, the whole event was built to commemorate a story of anticipation for the birth of a miraculous child. Correct me if I'm wrong, but as the story goes, on December 26, the manger was not dismantled, the stable mucked out, and the baby savior stored away till next year. The anticipation of a good thing, after it arrived, was met with a deep sense of gratitude for the experience and a promise to be rewarded for doing the right thing.
Obviously worshipers grasp the meaning of Christmas far more easily than those of us who have simply adopted the traditions without the belief. We are left to figure out how we shall accept, be grateful for, and use the non-material gifts we've been given. With must find our own metaphors for that which gives life joy, sorrow, and meaning; how to be kind to each other; how to be true to ourselves; and where the rewards lie in doing the right thing.
And just as there was magic in that birth, there is magic in every moment, Christian and non. Only you won't find it at the mall or any of the things you bring home from there. It's in our experience. With others. In solitude. Outside among the natural wonders. Inside among human creativity and connection. Tomorrow night at midnight we reset the calendar and thus reset our perspective. Fifty-one weeks later, we will scramble to get ready for Christmas morning once again. Do we expect a different result with bigger gifts? A car perhaps? Better start saving now. Or can we commit to finding true pleasure in the experience of winter's day, complete with a reminder that life is good. Flawed maybe. But still, very, very good...even on December 26.
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