When most people think about December, they think about Christmas. When they think about Christmas, they think about giving and family. When I was a child, Christmas was like this. Presents and family parties. I don’t really remember when it changed, perhaps when the not-so-nice things about my family began to touch my sister and myself. Maybe it was when we found out that my Pa and Nana were divorced, or when we found out that the sick that my Aunt had wasn’t something that the doctors could get rid of. Perhaps it was when my cousin decided he preferred me as a girlfriend or when we found out my uncle preferred his daughter that way and another of my cousins as a mistress. When we all stopped meeting as a family for all the little holidays and mostly stayed with our immediate family for the bigger ones, like Thanksgiving and New Years. Maybe it was all just part of growing up, but it seems like the entire world changed when life outside the backyard began to seep in.
Christmas hasn’t changed all that much. I have to think it’s somewhat of a forced effort, though. People trying desperately to pull the entire world back to those kinder No matter where I am, I always go home for Christmas. It’s the only time of year I can ever seem to make it home anymore, but my trips seem to get shorter and shorter and there is less and less family every time I go home days. You can almost hear some people thinking, “When I was a child, you got along and everyone was happier. Today, you have to be that way again.” We, as a whole, refuse to let this one day be tainted by the passage of time. I think it’s the one fairy tale that humanity refuses to let go of. Sadly, I think that is fading, too.
Christmas has become a children’s holiday. Religious or no, it used to at least be a family holiday and that was more than good enough for most everyone I knew. People don’t have to get married anymore. People don’t have to court each other. No one has to do anything any more, and to me, it seems, this means there is very little romanticism left in the world, only a lot of overcompensation. But I try to hold on to it, just like a lot of the world does. Tradition.
No matter where I am, I always go home for Christmas. It’s the only time of year I can ever seem to make it home anymore, but my trips seem to get shorter and shorter and there is less and less family every time I go home. I can’t recall the last time I saw any of my cousins. I see only a handful of relatives outside of my immediate family nowadays and exchanging gifts has become a forgettable practice. An afterthought among the half-hearted inquiries about what has been going on with everyone over the past year. But I remember when it was a bigger thing. When we all trimmed the tree together. I remember when we had big meals with the whole family and talked rather than chatted over finger foods. I remember hoping so-and-so would be there rather than praying someone else wasn’t. And this year I will remember being excited to get there rather than being terrified of getting on that plane.
Do you remember looking at Scrooge and thinking how appalling it was that someone would make someone work on Christmas day? This year, did you have enough seniority to have Christmas day off? With the terrible events that have occurred over the past few months, I think we have a morbid potential to get back to the old days. I think we, as a whole, have a small chance to make the holidays something bigger than tradition. I think this awful tragedy could potentially bring families together, but I fear that it is only to mourn. Christmas never meant this.
In my religion, I do not celebrate Christmas as most religious people do. I don’t believe in Jesus as an individual person, per say. I don’t believe in him as the Son of God, but rather as a philosophy or the embodiment of a legend or fable. I don’t know about the tales behind other religious holidays in December, I don’t know about Kwanzaa or Hanukah, all I know is what I was brought up with and what I hold as my own now. But I try to believe that they are not all that different. I do not believe in holding the struggles of my ancestors as my own, they are not my struggles and they do not make me who I am. And if all of you who are reading this can stand there with me for a moment, let go of the lessons you know and the religious teachings you hold dear, I can share what I feel is all that is left of our traditions.
In my religion, we celebrate Yule. Without the ceremony and religious stigma, Yule is the Winter Solstice. It is the shortest, darkest day of the year. We celebrate it to encourage the return of the brighter days. It used to be about the harvests, but it was also about hope and taking stock of what you have survived. It was about being humanity wasn’t just a nostalgic romance; it was every gentle smile that a stranger gave you thankful for your family and friends who have survived with you and celebrating the lives of those who did not. And it was about hope, seeing through the dark before the dawn.
This has been a dark year for everyone and I think there is an element of Yule in everything about the Christmas season. I think we all have the potential to wake up to a longer, brighter day. I hope we all have the strength to see that we have survived and we will make it though another cycle. I have always said that religions should never dictate our lives; they should only reflect who we want to become. In a time where we are fighting a religious war, I can only hope that we can get beyond our books and realize that those were different days. Our wars are not fought among small groups of people with sticks and rocks. And it seems to me that the biggest expense is not in cash or lives lost or saved, it is in humanity.
In my backyard, everyone was magical and everyone was beautiful. At Christmastime, we were a gathering of gods and goddesses in my eyes. We were all immortal and we were all heroes. On the streets, everyone was going home to a feast of warmth and love and nothing mattered more than each other. And humanity wasn’t just a nostalgic romance; it was every gentle smile that a stranger gave you.
This year, I give you humanity, and inside humanity, I want you to find hope. I want you to learn how to use them and take the time to show someone else how to use them. I want you to take the time away from hating the people who don’t matter and give it to loving the people who do. Use these things to heal yourself and maybe we can slowly get back to a time where December was a joyous season rather than one of hurried, overcompensating gifts and awkward family gatherings.