Darkness falls early in December as we approach the winter solstice and Christmas Day. Already we hear certain phrases again and again: Christmas shopping season seems to begin earlier and earlier. Are your decorations up? Christmas has become so commercialized. I need a gift idea from you. Soon it will be a new year.
Beginning with Thanksgiving Day’s end, the holiday season means bells ringing and carols playing, decorative lights and shared gifts, the two eves of Christmas and New Year, special family gatherings and “peace and good-will to all.” Observant Christians celebrate Jesus’s birth, the inspiration for one of the world’s great religions; Jews focus on Hanukah, the eight-day holiday that among other things commemorates Jews having reclaimed and re-dedicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Holiday season also brings forth a menagerie of memories and experiences. In the Bluffton-Pandora Swiss community where I grew up, carolers on New Year’s Eve drove in a caravan from farm to farm to serenade friends by singing two mid-19th century songs in German: “Die Zeit is ankommen” (Tis time now to welcome) and “Stimmt Lieder an!” (Tune in with song). It remains a cherished memory of childhood, getting to stay up late, possibly until 2 or 3 in the morning, waiting and watching for the dozen or so cars to come up our lane. After the welcoming songs, we ate snacks and drank something hot. Merry-making for sure, not carousal.
Strange as it may have sounded to many of our ancestors, the Christmas season today gathers all into its spirit, the religious and the non-religious alike. Secularists experience Christmas as a state of mind… a “war on Christmas” is not their guiding motif. Whether people favor “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” doesn’t particularly bother them. Nor should it us.
Rather, to about the same degree as to the religious-minded, this season is one of welcoming gestures, generosity, eating, comforting the afflicted, easing the sadness of the lonely. We reminisce with family and friends about things we have loved. All of us can hear the bells on Christmas Day and sing carols of peace on earth, good-will to men.
As the days of December grow darker earlier, they also become more crowded. Just try to schedule meetings beyond the usual routines during a month that runs in a breathless pace toward a New Year. Others are doing the same; soon we fear falling behind as anxiety rises to something more than a word in a dictionary.
Little wonder that perhaps 30 to 40 percent of Americans, according to social workers, have reported dreading the end-of-year festivities. They turn to Facebook and read how busy and happy everyone else is; the often emotionally barren world of Twitter makes matters still worse. It’s probably best to avoid both in December and relate directly with others.
We live in a fractured political and social world, where life throws roadblocks to many who search for meaning and happiness. But there are comforting moments to be had.
In this season of sharing and open-mindedness, nothing has proven more effective than interacting with others, whether worshiping at church, volunteering at a soup kitchen, attending a community event or visiting a shut-in who may be suffering from social isolation.
It’s also an opportune time to ponder an invisible gift straight from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – “a gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped (us) become who (we) are today.” One silent minute.
Ron Lora, a native of Bluffton, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toledo. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.