A Barry Manilow Christmas song came on the radio in the car not long ago. “Seems strange,” someone commented to me, “for a Jew to be recording Christmas records.” It actually didn’t seem strange to me at all. Surely a large percentage of his fans would be Christmas-celebrating Christians, so why not try to please them? Besides, Jesus was a Jew anyway. Mostly though it got me thinking on the special day and its different meanings. It’s because of the multiplicity of meanings that it so important to us.
Obviously, to some, the day is a purely religious day, one picked to mark the birth of Jesus in that manger some 2000-odd years ago. There’s enough historical data and non-religious referencing of him to know he surely existed; if you’re devoutly Christian, you further believe he was God walking among us and hastened the transition between the angry Old Testament God and the more tolerant and loving New Testament one. Which of course is reason enough for a pretty big celebration and giving of thanks. Even some other religions like the Bahais acknowledge Jesus’ life and his role as a blessed and significant messenger of God. So there’s that.
Then there’s the modern, secular Christmas too, a day of a whole different species. The Christmas that lights up small kids’ faces with thoughts of Santa Claus coming to town. For adults, sure there is a downside to it all – the hustle and bustle, the new year’s credit card bills – but it’s a pretty special day of being with family, other loved ones. Of giving and getting gifts and smiles and laughs. And there’s the food…
For me, both are valid and both are reasons to celebrate and enjoy, Christian, Jew, aetheist or other persuasion. I’ve not much liked the shopping or the crowded malls historically, but I’ve always loved other aspects of it. The nighttime Christmas lights, the movies and specials, the getting together with family and friends (which some years ended up getting short shrift while I was working overtime and being too wrapped up in the …well, wrapping of the day.) My mom and I used to watch the old Alistair Sim A Christmas Carol annually for years, very often on Christmas Eve. The season still doesn’t seem complete without seeing the Charlie Brown Christmas or Rudolph, fond memories of my ’70s childhood that still persevere to this day. More recently, since having family of my own, Elf and A Christmas Story have been added to that list of must-sees. Those happy traditions mean more to me than most of the boxes I might open from underneath the tree, though I do quite like that too, as well as seeing the smiles of those opening the ones I placed there.
This year though, as so many have pointed out, will be a bit different. We’re still seeing the beloved shows and movies and hearing the festive songs. We’re still going to have a nice meal – ham or turkey hasn’t been decided yet – but there’ll be no big gathering of my sweetie’s extended family. We’ve been ordering a bit more online and going into stores a lot less. The pile underneath said tree may look modest this year compared to many. But that’s OK with me. I hate the reason for it – the pandemic obviously (which I must admit, back in March, I never really thought we’d still need to be talking about in December, let alone taking precautions against) – but I don’t mind the changes. As my mother-in-law said in her aged wisdom, “this isn’t the year to celebrate.”
She’s right, if that means not celebrating like most years. But I think perhaps the scaled back Christmas itself might be something worth celebrating, if we really look at it. It’s a day to really enjoy those still around us in our household and perhaps consider the importance of those who aren’t here to us; maybe appreciate them more when things go back to normal and we can once more enjoy their company. Maybe we can celebrate that having a little more time to relax at home and less time in crowds, pushing and shoving is a good tradeoff for one or two less boxes to rip open on the 25th (which in too many cases are stashed away in the closet by the 27th). A time to celebrate, those of us lucky enough to be feeling fit, enjoy our health and lives, and sad as it may be, to remember those who’ve left us this year , from Covid or any other unfortunate demise, and celebrate the time we had together.
So, yep, 2020’s been a trying year. But I raise a glass to it and its lessons, and raise a glass to all you dear readers hoping you’ll have a happy Christmas, no matter what that might mean to you.