When I was a kid, the meaning of the Christmas season was just as it was portrayed in music. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas … There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays … Deck the Halls … Sleigh Ride … I remember these sounds of peace, hope, and joy wafting through the halls and up the stairs to where I sat perched, basking in the glow of my newly made Lite Brite Christmas tree. Down in the living room my mother bustled about, readying her own annual themed tree. The smell of Christmas began to permeate the house as mom would deck the halls with boughs of holly. The anticipation for Christmas Day grew as the decorations saturated the house.
The excitement was not merely for the presents I saw wrapped under the tree, however. Rather, it was for the hope of a White Christmas, the joy of seeing family, the peace of the warm lights on the decorated Christmas tree, and the love of family who drew together around its light. Every year, I felt that love, peace, and joy permeate the air like softly falling snowflakes. And while I would often experience those warm feelings at other times throughout the year, Christmas was always the time that I felt the whole world would join in. As I’ve grown older, I have tried to hold on to my childhood concept of the holidays. It has been difficult, though: just as all kids eventually learn that Santa is not who he was originally believed to be, I learned that there is an aspect of Christmas that is much more synthetic than my adolescent mind had allowed.
I can’t exactly put my finger on when I first realized the faux side of the holidays
—there was no precise moment in which I learned that joy, hope, and peace came in a boxed set that could be purchased at any local department store. I think it snuck up on me like it does most everyone. One day, you find that the real joy, hope, and peace you longed for as a child has been substituted with a synthetic replacement. Yes, it looks much like the joy, hope, and peace of your childhood, yet the costs are much greater—and not just to your wallet.
While I loved getting presents as a kid—and still do enjoy the occasional gift— spending time with family and friends was and still is one of my favorite parts of Christmas. As I’ve aged, though, I have learned that giving those presents and seeing those folks costs. It costs money and it costs time. In realizing this, I find it interesting to see how we’re willing to spend those resources—some people seem to think that they can make up for a lack of one by spending more on the other.
Physical gifts have become the perfect, “Sorry I can’t spend time with you, so here’s something instead of me” rationalization.
We have fallen so much in love with buying things for others and ourselves that we have even inaugurated a day to kick off the season of going out at unimaginable hours, waiting in ridiculously long lines, and pushing and shoving other shoppers... just to get that “perfect gift” for Christmas. It’s not quite the happy bustling I picture when I hear Silver Bells. And hey, we enjoy doing this so much that we decided to go ahead and move it up a day—which just so happens to be Thanksgiving, a day we profess to be thankful for what we have, and value spending quality time with our loved ones.
I too have found myself looking for a gift for someone just because “I have to get them something.” And I know that whatever I find, it isn't going to be something that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. Stores are stacked full of these kind of gifts every year, and for some reason we buy into the lie. There aren't too many Christmas songs about being excited to receive an obligatory present. Maybe Santa Baby, but none of those gifts are just stacked in the aisles of Walmart. We’ve bought the synthetic.
So I find myself reminiscing, longing, and searching for the nostalgia of my youth. Will I ever recapture those feelings? I now realize that part of the ideal of Christmas as I knew it was composed by some synthetic Christmas items. Should that stop me from searching for the kind of Christmas that Bing Crosby sang about?
I have a son of my own now, and my wish for him is that he will find Christmas to be like the songs say it is. I want him to know Christmas “just like the ones I used to know.”
- Donavan Davis, Section Director and Co-Writer