I started the day hearing a friend talk about her mother, who doesn’t celebrate Christmas in the traditional way.
No tree or decorations. No special dinner served on the good dishes with everyone present. They don’t travel to see relatives or invite anyone over. She said it’s essentially just another day of the week, with a single gift given to each of the children, who are grown.
“She approaches cleaning the oven with the same level of enthusiasm,” she said.
“Was she always that way?” I asked.
She said no — their holidays used to be warm and happy. But somewhere along the line, her mom decided Christmas had become too commercial and she wasn’t going to buy into that silliness anymore.
I was still thinking about her mom’s disdain for Christmas when a nearby co-worker began ranting about how much he hated the holiday, mostly because of the extra debt they took on to buy presents. As he wound down his tirade, others picked it up, complaining about porch pirates, long lines, grumpy sales clerks, and getting hit up for donations.
In the elevator, a total stranger wished for a remote that could magically speed her ahead until Christmas was over, saying she’d had her fill of shopping for people she “didn’t even much like.”
It seemed I was surrounded by nothing but Grinches. And their sadness was contagious.
But only until I was driving and reached this one intersection that can be such a nightmare I sometimes take a much longer route to avoid it. Yet on this particular day, the drivers seemed to be going out of their way to allow others to merge. A little farther down the road, I experienced the same thing again.
I stopped at Aldi just to buy a gallon of milk, but when I reached the single open register, I found a long line of customers waiting to check out, all with loaded-down carts.
“Why don’t you get in front of me?” offered the last woman in line. “You have only one thing.”
As I said thanks, the woman in front of her ushered me ahead of her, too. And then the man before her did the same.
Back in my truck, the news was playing on my radio — first came a story about good Samaritans paying off the balances on layaways of complete strangers, followed by another story about extraordinarily large tips being left, anonymously, for a number of food servers.
It seemed that for every grumbly ol’ Grinch came a counterpart whose heart had already tripled in size.
Sure, there are lots of bad stories this time of year. Presents being stolen. Credit card numbers swiped. People behaving in ways that would bring shame to their parents.
Yet we hear about those stories not because there are more of them than the good, but because they’re broadcast via police scanners straight into newsrooms, while those who do kindnesses often do so discreetly, not wanting to risk embarrassing the recipient.
It’s sad so many dread Christmas, allowing themselves to get caught up in the expectations and obligations and pageantry to the point they miss the reason we celebrate altogether. Sure, the holiday has become almost obscenely commercial, but is that a completely bad thing?
It’s fascinating to consider how dependent the economy has become on sales made in this season. In the U.S., it’s estimated that a quarter of all personal spending takes place during the Christmas shopping season.
Yet these purchases are made in an effort to show those we love that we care.
Society may attempt to corrupt the day’s beauty, yet in spite of the theft, fraud and stresses that get slung like mud on the day, it remains as it was at the start: a day set aside to recognize and celebrate the world’s ultimate gift.