I’ve been thinking about American holidays and how I react to each one emotionally. Each is pretty easy to sum up in one word. New Year’s Eve/Day is hopeful. Valentine’s Day is sweet. Easter is reaffirming. July Fourth inspires pride. Halloween is fun. Thanksgiving is warm.
And then there’s Christmas. It isn’t possible to give a one-word description to Christmas. It is joyful and stressful, spiritual and capitalistic, giving and receiving, togetherness and aloneness.
The expectations we put on ourselves and each other are overwhelming, no matter how hard we try not to let them be. We want so much to recreate the Christmases of our childhoods yet can’t really put our fingers on what it is we are trying to raise from the ashes.
We certainly aren’t trying to simplify. No one talks about going back to nuts and oranges being the primary gifts left by St. Nicholas. Nobody plans for Santa to bring one single gift – even if it were a “Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle.” Children’s lists get longer each year, activities to warm our hearts while filling our calendars get more and more prolific. Families walk that tightrope of wanting to be together but not wanting to be intrusive.
Maybe Christmas as we usually celebrate it can be summed up in one word: complicated.
And it just shouldn’t be. What is complicated about celebrating a birthday? For those who keep Christmas, the root of what we are celebrating is the birth of a baby that was the most wonderful, selfless gift ever given.
And therein lies the answer to having a Merry Christmas. For whatever is left of today and for all the years to come, make Christmas about others.
My joys of Christmas – and I have many – are always found in the smiles and happiness of friends and family. A warm hug from an old friend, a delighted smile at a gift given, and a simple story of family times are the best parts of Christmas. If you look at your Christmas joys, aren’t they always found in knowing and seeing the happiness of the ones you love?
If you drop the expectations and forget about recreating the past, it will be a holly, jolly Christmas, the best time of the year!
So, again, Merry Christmas!
Sherri Gardner Howell, a former features writer and manager at the News Sentinel and publisher at Blount Today, has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons