I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Don’t you just love the holidays? They evoke mixed feelings about family, self and society. What holiday meal doesn’t contain one spat between generations, an overwrought relative or an old political feud? Holidays also inevitably remind us of who is missing this year, those who have died as well as those simply not with us.
Our family celebrates Chanukah, but the extended family observes Christmas. We have a step-brother/uncle in Afghanistan, and two who are unemployed. It is a muted time. Then again I don’t know anybody who is particularly spirited, do you? Is it all the bad political and economic news that is depressing people? Partially. As social norms have sped dizzingly ahead, negative social trends also express a loss of spirit and a relinquishing of simple customs, where “men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.”
This year we have no interest in more stuff – discounted or otherwise. I’m dreaming of carolers in the streets, hot cider, homemade cookies, reaching out to fellow humans in need, coming together as one country with problems that need to be solved. I’m drifting backward in time to a snowy street lined with oil lamps where we walk quietly, wrapped in our mufflers, from home to home to pay a call of good will to our neighbors who are waiting out the cold and dark days with us. I’d like to sit by a fire and read, or act out a play, or listen to the snow dropping down – maybe even gaze at the twinkle in the sky hopeful that such a playful cast of light brings surprise to the hearts of all humankind.
Yesterday a little girl in the park looked up at me as I passed her with my dog.
“Does your dog celebrate Christmas?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” I replied. “Ask him.”
She kneeled next to him and had a private conversation. Then she stood up, tossing her striped scarf behind her shoulders, and filled me in.
“Your dog celebrates Christmas because he loves you.”
I wanted to respond but she disappeared, another angelic child stopping by to deliver a message before evaporating.
Our Jewish family celebrates Christmas because we love the people in our family who make the holiday. And like most family feuds, deep within the differences of the people of this nation we can find in the old-fashioned Christmas or holidays – it really doesn’t matter what you call them – some basic earthly love of one another. On those old cobblestone roads, journeying home, despite the serious problems of times past, the craziness was sometimes good, and often funny.
PS Ordinary Earth is back from sabbatical.