The holidays are here, so let me be among the hopefully many who will wish you a Merry Christmas. I also wish you a joyful Hanukkah or Chanukah depending on how you chose to spell the holiday, which the AP Style Book shows as Hanukkah even though Rabbi Daniel Zemel told NPR’s Robert Siegel that there seems to be no “correct” spelling of the word. In this, the season of peace, let us all accept either spelling. Do not use “Xmas”. Try not to write “Xmas,” even in a text. “Xmas” is something for a sign on a muffler shop.
For years now this column has put forward small tips on ways one can brighten the holiday, although our own home will likely be trimmed outdoors with only one string of lights. Last year, to slow global warming, we used a set of solar-powered lights. They would twinkle for about 90 minutes before fading, although I wouldn’t hold up a set of bulbs from Walgreens as a statement on the efficacy of solar power.
All that said, here are some holiday reminders that the season offers plenty of opportunity to give with some thought and caring, and by doing so getting back a season of good cheer. I readily concede a certain level of Midwestern naiveté in all this, but that’s my gift to myself at this time of year.
DIY: Gifts that you’ve made yourself allow you to be involved in the spirit of the season and explore some creative outlets. This year our household will make its own Christmas cards and I’m hoping my family will enjoy the gift of photos I’ve taken of various family members. Last year there were numerous photo calendars. Result: We shared a lot of memories and everybody knew what day it was. I’m still flipping the pages of a family photo calendar my mom gave to each of her children a while back, even though the dates are from 2012.
Shop Smart / Give Art / Recycle / Buy Local: It’s not our “job” to get out and support Black Fridays. I wish the economy well, but gifts that are smart (clothing that lasts / books / tools that will actually be utilized by the recipient) keep giving throughout the year. Giving one-of-a-kind art and craft items supports the artists and shows your good taste. Giving gifts of affordable retro (used) and antique items keeps those purveyors in business and holds down production of plastic stuff in bubble packs that might be shoved in a drawer and forgotten. When you can, support local shops that are often the source of unique items and need your business to make it into the New Year.
Donate: At this time of year, you don’t need me to tell you that there are plenty of good and noble causes that need your support. You can donate in the name of a loved one, and let them know you’ve done so with a nicely handmade card crafted by you. There are many causes that justly deserve support, but here are few recommendations to get you started: Doctors without Borders, Heifer International, OXFAM, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Smile Train… and drop something off for Toys for Tots.
Talk: No, really. Talk to your family and friends. Phone calls to those you’ve been meaning to call are more meaningful than a hastily mailed commercial Christmas card. It’s likely that our definition of “shut-ins” can be expanded to include even family members we may not be regularly communicating with because of the passage of time or maybe senior members are living in care facilities and, because it’s difficult to open-up that conversation about the diabetes, you haven’t called as often as you should. Talk, not texting. At family gatherings, there’s usually that one family member that doesn’t get full attention for reasons of a troubled past or present. The estranged niece or nephew might enjoy any conversation that doesn’t begin with “So, still doing the drugs?” Let them know you’re there. Listen to them about the bad marriage that ended this year. Forgiveness and acceptance never need to be wrapped and won’t be returned to Target.
Enjoy: At some point, maybe because the movies and television needed it to create programming for the Hallmark Channel, there got to be this idea that the holidays are stressful. Okay, sure, I’ve been on airliners with a crying baby sitting right behind me, or a kid juiced on sugar kicking the back of my seat. But then eventually, I find myself in a quiet place and the music starts. (FYI: The three essential holiday CD’s you’ll need are “An Oscar Peterson Christmas”, Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song”, and of course “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio)
Enjoyment isn’t predicated on liquor and food, and my sense of public duty demands that I point out that you’d be better off having that additional weird cookie with the inexplicable ‘red things’ on it rather than more cocktails. Instead, find a moment to be grateful. Yes, there are forces that never rest on the holidays; the darkness of war and suffering and pain. But the holidays speak directly to those forces, begging for our better selves to come forward. Hear that, and know that others are listening… at least for a few moments once a year.