Shortly after Memorial Day, the Christmas decorations went up. OK, I’m exaggerating. But sometimes it feels that way, doesn’t it? I wonder if one day, we’ll just leave the decorations up all year.
In my Christian faith, I often hear people remind us to remember the “reason for the season.” In other words, instead of focusing primarily on the material side of Christmas, we might want to consider focusing more on the spiritual side of Christmas. It’s probably a good idea.
But as I considered the phrase, I realized that the reverse is also true. This time of year is the “season for the reason.” Let me explain.
As a child, I could not wait for Christmas. It was the one day when I got a lot of free stuff. I didn’t always get the free stuff I wanted but it was free stuff nonetheless. For the record, I’m still waiting for that can of Silly String I requested six years in a row but never got because my mother was convinced it would ruin the couch. But even with the disappointments, Christmas was exciting.
As an adult, the holidays are still exciting but they also come with just a tad bit of stress (OK, more than a tad bit!). There is shopping to do, cards to send out, cookies to bake, and all of this must be accomplished while dealing with the other stressed out people who are on the roads doing their shopping, mailing their cards, and buying their cookie supplies. In fact, I’ve jokingly said that the holiday season officially starts when someone flips me off in traffic. We’re yule-tired, egg-bogged, and one nut shy of being fruit cakes.
That’s what made me think of this concept of the “season for the reason.” In other words, are we really clear about why we do what we do during the holidays? Are we doing something because of expectations, or traditions, or perhaps because it’s the right thing to do? Let’s think this through.
Years ago, I used to compose a lengthy and extremely witty letter to send to everyone on our holiday card list. I chronicled all that we had done that year using a clever thematic format. One year the letter was written as a college yearbook. Another year, it was written as a noir detective novel. And after the Florida elections in 2000, the letter looked like a ballot with hanging chads and all. But as our children grew up and we all got busier, the letter got longer and longer. As a result, I had to reduce the font size on our letter down to around three or four. In fact, some of the older members on our list, whose eyesight was waning, would ask, “Why does your holiday letter look like one big blur of ink?”
One day, it occurred to me that other people might not be as enamored as we were with my hilarious rendering of our family’s achievements. So, we made a change. The cards now have two parts. First, on the front of the card, is a current photograph of the family so that people can see how ridiculously attractive our offspring have become and simultaneously, how ridiculously unattractive my bald head has become. And second is a succinct family “letter” that must fit on the back of the card. The reason for the card, we discovered, was not so much to impress but to simply to let people know we were thinking of them during the holidays and to give them a brief update on our lives.
Sometimes, I suspect, we do things that, in time, may no longer make sense. But we’ve embraced the routines for so long, we have a hard time letting go. Once we do let go, however, we might realize that we had our focus on the wrong reason.
Here’s another example. We recently went to a party and contributed some of the appetizers. But there was so much food, the appetizers were hardly touched. You should know that my wife and I have a deep-seated fear of running out of food whenever we entertain. In fact, at the first Super Bowl party we ever hosted, we had five pizzas left over. Not a total of five pizzas but five pizzas left over.
I remember a comedy routine by Jim Gaffigan during which he said, “Can you imagine explaining appetizers to someone in a third world country? It would be like saying, ‘Oh yeah this is our meal before our meal.’”
Maybe we don’t need so much food. Maybe we don’t need to eat so much. Maybe we don’t need to worry about running out. The reason for sharing food is to experience the communal activity of breaking bread together. We don’t need to break our backs trying to carry all the food on our plate.
And finally, we probably ought to consider the reason for all the gifts we buy. We fight the traffic, scramble for the very last parking space, and then disappear into the over-crowded mall trying to find gifts for all the people on our list when many of them probably don’t even need the things we’re buying for them. As I mentioned before, I couldn’t wait to get all the free stuff at Christmas when I was a child. But as an adult, I feel that I have plenty of stuff already.
I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon. But I think it could be valuable for us, during the holiday and then throughout the year, to be clear about why we do what we do. Are we doing something because we feel it’s expected of us or because it’s the right thing to do? Are we focusing on excess when moderation would be just as appropriate? And are we comparing our actions to others instead of being comfortable with our own decisions?
The bottom line for the holidays is this: What is the reason for our approach to the season?
Whether we’re writing, cooking, or shopping, if we’re clear on our purpose and can be comfortable with a little less than a little more, perhaps the season will be more meaningful and less hectic.
That sounds reason-able to me. How about you?