Another holiday season is past, and we all hunker down for the vicious (maybe) jokes of Mother Nature. It is January, and hibernation time. The focus is on watching football contests in warmer climates and sunny stadiums. It is a great excuse to make and eat vast quantities of chili and chips. What is truly sad, however, was the realization that Christmas and New Year's appeared to be merely hiccups on the calendar. Whether you are a Christian celebrating Christmas as a deeply spiritual and significant milestone in the church calendar, or you are much more secular in your observance, Christmas basically came and went without a whimper.
Now granted, the decorations started going up across the aisle from Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns and foam skeletons and tombstones, but there really wasn't that festive feeling of anticipation. As I work midnight shift, I happened to be coming home on Black Friday. When you might have expected the lots in front of stores, malls and strip malls to be jam packed with cars, I noted a goodly number of open parking spaces that didn't require a backpack and hiking boots. I had occasion to be out over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and surprisingly did not find the lines for check out to be long or onerous. And throughout the Christmas shopping season, and despite the signs everywhere which counted down the days remaining until Christmas, I simply didn't see the flurry of shopping activity. Those who were shopping were fairly lackluster, without the concern or desirous of getting just the right gift for everyone on their list.
The number of Christmas greetings dwindled to an all time low. It is usually the policy in our house to decorate by putting up the cards received. This year, most had dispensed with cards and instead sent the pre-printed, generic, year end newsletters. It is great to catch up with folks, but there is probably nothing more impersonal than a computer printed letter without any adornment or pictures. And for a goodly number, this newsletter will be the sum total of personal interaction until next holiday season. Most folks don't even bother to sign their names any longer, and the labels on the envelopes are all computer generated as well. Not very festive to adorn the walls with folded sheets of copy paper.
Some will say that the internet has eaten into Christmas cards and holiday greetings, but a Meme "shared" is probably even more impersonal. I actually took a hiatus from my social networking activities and tried to personally connect with those who were important at the holidays. Scary to learn that interpersonal contact is no longer the gold standard of communication. While I was out and about trying to wish holiday blessings and best wishes in person, those whom I hoped to reach were at home with the mouse in front of the computer. It is also supposed that online shopping has cut into the frenzy in the physical stores. And still others have opted to simply give gift cards and let somebody else figure out what to buy, where to buy it and when. There isn't a whole lot of thought about who will receive the gift, just the obligation of giving something.
And I was hard pressed to lift my sorely beaten holiday spirits. There aren't any Christmas specials any longer. Even though it was considered old fashioned, I remember the variety shows with Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Dean Martin, and others. It gave shape to the season, leading up to the holiday. Most people would be unconsciously humming some favorite Christmas tune. There were also the vintage Christmas movies. It used to be that you would see "Its a Wonderful Life" at least five times between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a big movie event. And this year, I had to mount a search of all stations via my cable provider to find if it were airing at all. The same with "White Christmas", "Christmas in Connecticut", and "A Christmas Carol". I found them, but it took some detective work and scheduling with the DVR, as some of these aired at rather obscure times. Somehow, nothing says "Peace on Earth, Good will to men" quite like a zombie apocalypse or the latest installment of the transformers.
Noted that most of my neighbors have dispensed with Christmas trees and lights. The usual Frosty and Rudolph lawn decorations never made it out of the garage. Even the neighborhood Griswold's scaled way back on their display. Of those who did decorate, the decorations were down and packed away before New Year's Eve. What ever happened to twelfth night? I can remember the neat thing about New Year's parties was that you didn't need a specific theme as the decorations were already in place from Christmas. Instead of "all is calm and all is bright", it was pretty darn dark up and down the street. In fact, I think more people decorated for Halloween, which is a whole other issue.
The point is that the anticipation is gone. Our world has become so PC that the only Christmas songs we can listen to are by Mariah Carey and the Beach Boys. I still haven't figured out why Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa are not offensive, but a nativity scene is...I mean, to the true atheist, they are all part of mythology, just images of stories. It is OK to have a Christmas tree, but not an angel on top of it. You even see fewer Salvation Army kettles and bell ringers than ever before. I heard fewer encouragements to support local food pantries and shelters, as if buying the air time on radio and TV was simply not worth the return.
Once upon a time, even the greatest Scrooge, the most committed curmudgeon, could be coaxed into a smile with hot cocoa and homemade Christmas cookies. Forget the religious meaning, but most everyone could hum things like "Silent Night" or "Joy to the World" without ever needing to know the lyrics. The hustle and bustle of holiday shopping was not like "Mad Max", but just a whole lot of people on the same mission, trying to make sure that their family and friends were happy come Christmas. Everyone wanted their special gift to make a smile, fulfill a wish, brighten a day. Christmas music was the soothing background to all this activity. And the bright lights, fanciful decorations all served to build our anticipation for time with family and friends, with good food and good company. People were of a charitable spirit.
You can pontificate about the shrinking of the polar ice caps and its devastating effect on polar bears to the North and penguins to the South, but I am much more concerned that we are seeing the extinction of Christmas, and along with it, the spirit of brotherhood that everyone seemed to share during the holiday season. Any reference to the origin of Christmas, the actual story that kicked off the whole celebration, has become taboo. News articles report about Christmas programs being altered, scenes deleted, songs eliminated. It doesn't really give us much else to celebrate. Giving gifts doesn't have a great meaning or purpose if it no longer reminds of the original gift in Bethlehem centuries gone by. If you are not a religious person by nature or confession, you can still look to the message of "peace on earth, good will to men" Call it an Aesop fable if you must, but stripping away the hallmarks of the season render it silent, no longer able to call people together in harmony.