Usually, around the time of Christmas et al, I blog either about the over commercialization of the holiday or about how to handle holiday grief. I rant and rail, console and counsel and mourn the simplicity of the holiday. This year, I have learned much about the importance of these holidays that goes beyond whether or not you believe in them, approve of them, celebrate them, are made sad or happy by them or even notice them.
The past four months have been very difficult for me (hence my absence from the blog) but they have also been a gift in many ways. The gift has not been easy to receive and by no means do I have it completely unwrapped or assembled yet, but I can see what it is and am endlessly excited by it. Because of what I know the gift to be, I have deliberately waited until Christmas Eve to reopen the blog again.
There is no doubt that the “meaning of Christmas” has been forgotten by most, subsumed by politics and consumerism (just witness the ridiculous violence over those new Nike shoes). There is no doubt that the endless focus on Christmas and the debate about the appropriateness of nativity scenes, trees and even the phrase “Merry Christmas” is offensive to people of different faiths, cultures and ideologies. It can be offensive, oppressive and discriminatory. For people who believe in Christmas, the same debates are threatening, insulting and demeaning. What a fine thing we have turned a celebration into as a society.
To say that Christmas is one of the most complicated publically acknowledged holidays is to make an understatement. The holiday is ingrained in our social fabric, like it or not.
But there in lies the true importance of Christmas within a society as diverse as Western culture has become.
Christmas is one of the few-shared milestones in a calendar year that we have with everyone around us in this society. It is a common marker. And this is important to establishing a common ground between us. Joe Shmoe that I may wind up chatting with in line will not connect to my personal timeline of basing everything off March 28and I may not connect to the importance he places on his birthday, but we can establish ourselves within a common timeline by saying “That was during that blizzard about a week after Christmas.”
Having a common sense of time through history is important because it creates a bridge between two individual experiences and creates a common one. A common sense of experience encourages compassion and empathy. A shared point of time aligns people and draws them together. It is why parades are so important in towns, or big football games or local custom celebrations. These shared markers enhance a sense of community identity, a sense of belonging and a sense of shared responsibility for each other.
It’s why holidays such as this are such whiz-bang times for people showing up to feed the homeless and take care of others – because the shared day creates a feeling of connection and responsibility.
Whether or not the personal interpretation of the day is shared, the communal one is even if only to underscore it as a day of giving or showing up for others. Even if all it does is give two strangers a starting point to put each other’s stories into context on a timeline.
How we frame our anniversaries is very important. The key to framing them is to understand that we can reframe the importance we place on days at any given point in time. This reframing is personal. But the anniversary may be universal.
Rather than focus on the difference in the importance we assign this day, perhaps it will make it easier for all if we seek to share in the fact that it is simply a day of universal importance. Then assign to it a reframed meaning that makes it your celebration. When you meet a stranger, you will find you both have shared the same day of celebration and from that connection – bridges may be built across any chasm.
c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All rights reserved.