After replacing 150 burned-out bulbs on my pre-lit artificial Christmas tree, I was ready to toss the entire Faux Frasier Fir out the window and let it fend for itself among the real trees. But I persevered and ordered 150 more bulbs to complete the bulb management effort I had neglected over the past five years.
I love real trees. But as someone with a tendency (obsession is the word my wife would choose) towards neatness, I can’t stand the millions of pine needles covering the floor on January 2nd. One July, we replaced the carpet in our family room and there were so many pine needles under the old carpet, you’d think our house didn’t have a roof.
So, as a way to avoid buying a dry, already-dead natural tree and cleaning up needles for years, I bought an artificial tree which, ironically, still sheds needles. This new shedding issue is most likely due to the fact that an artificial tree does not easily go back into the storage container once you take it out. It’s like one of those dehydrated sponges that grows ten times once you get it wet. I look at my tree and think, “There’s no way it came out of that container.”
So, each year, while I was focused on the storage challenge and cleaning up fake needles, I didn’t realize that nearly 300 bulbs had burned out since I bought the tree. And I still don’t know if this was a design flaw or the result of my slightly aggressive packing techniques. Regardless, I spent three hours yesterday replacing bulbs.
Some of you may wonder why I would go through all of this just to decorate a tree. Believe me, while replacing light #119 and losing the feeling in my fingers, I was wondering the same thing. I believe I do it because it’s a tradition in my family and because my wife and kids enjoy a fully lit tree, as opposed to a fully lit bulb replacer who is drinking spiked egg just to get through the process.
Holidays are like that. They are a time of when joy and frustration live side by side. Some of us love Christmas, Hanukkah, or insert your favorite holiday here so much, we start putting up the decorations in February. Others of us may enjoy the holidays but are not obsessed with them. And some of us rank our fondness for the holidays just below Brussels sprouts but slightly above oral surgery.
When we have difficulties with this time of year, it’s usually because we feel out of sync with others. Perhaps we feel overwhelmed by the expectation to be cheerful, or we’ve experienced a recent loss and are grieving, or we just don’t enjoy some members of the family who visit and stay too long. Whatever the reason for the disconnect, this sense of out-of-sync-ed-ness can lead to a less than positive holiday experience.
So, how does one regain a sense of connection when the world seems to be in a different place? I think the key is the focus of the connection. The focus doesn’t have to be on the events, the gifts, the parties, or even the decorations. Connection occurs when we focus on the meaningful relationship with an experience or a person.
When we focus less on the quality of the hors d’oeuvres and more on the quality of the conversation, we make a connection. When we actually talk to the person ringing the bell outside the department store, we make a connection. And when we think about the meaning of what we’re doing rather than just checking items off a list, we make a connection.
And if you’re feeling disconnected from the many holiday festivities, look for other ways to find connections. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Visit a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Or watch every episode of The Andy Griffith Show (there are heart-felt moral connections in every one). It’s OK to find connections in non-holiday activities.
The goal is to find meaning in what you’re doing rather than doing something just for the sake of doing it. In our American culture, it’s easy to get sidetracked by what others say is important. Success, fame, and fortune are touted as measures of value. But those things are not necessarily meaningful for many of us. Connections to people and experiences are where the real value often lies.
A few days ago, Wendy and I attended a fundraiser for a community organization that provides tutoring to underprivileged youth. Our schedule was busy and there were other things we could have done that evening. But friends invited us and we got to spend time with them, my sister and my brother-in-law. The unexpected value of the event happened when a couple of the children sat at our table. We had the pleasure of eating dinner with two loud, vibrant, joy-filled children, ages 7 and 10. It was pure pleasure watching them decorate a gingerbread cookie and then promptly inhale it.
I could have easily seen the fundraiser as just one more attempt to cut into my busy schedule during a season when non-profit organizations tend to pursue donations. Instead, I was struck by the good work that this organization undertakes and saw wonder in the eyes of the children who receive the services. There was a connection made. And for me that made all the difference in the world.
What’s your connection to the holidays? Perhaps it’s your faith, or the music, or the lights (ugh). Or maybe you don’t have a connection to the holidays. Whether you do or you don’t, I hope you have figured out that the point of this article is that we need connections to find meaning in our lives and that it really isn’t about the “holidays.” It’s about the connections. And when we find meaning in our connections, we can celebrate any time of the year.