by Roxanne Tellier
Can we really be nearing the end of 2019? It seems like only yesterday that I was making excuses for not wanting to go out on New Year’s Eve! (I got a million of ’em… )
November and December have always been crazy busy months in my life; Halloween kicks off a slick slide thru November’s family birthdays, all the way to my own birthday on December 4, and then the multiple get togethers and dinners that lace the three weeks until Christmas itself.
Oh, I’m not complaining – it’s great to get together with family and friends in the spirit of the season. Still, it’s very different from my past, and the holidays I enjoyed as a child, when we could gather all of the aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews and meet at my Gram’s on Christmas Day.
That was then. These are the days of multiple marriages, and tiers of second, step, and adopted parents and siblings.
I haven’t spent a Christmas Day with both of my kids and all of my grandkids – ever. Yes, this is the modern world, and these are first world problems that we suffer in non-silence. Nonetheless, it does feel odd, and harder every year, to get into the spirit a good two weeks in advance of the big day, just because that’s the only time we can carve out for family that doesn’t conflict with commitments to work or friends.
Once it would have been a turkey, ham or tourtiere feast; today, with so many exclusionary diets, it is harder than ever to plan a meal that meets (or meats) everyone’s special nutritional needs.
It’s also about the physical distance between us. Many of us have scattered with the wind in our pursuit of love or better opportunities, and it was ever thus. But distance and the costs of sending gifts across the miles means that I’ve stopped my old habit of seeking out ‘the perfect present,‘ and joined the ranks of those who send off my holiday greetings and gifts via special Amazon delivery, Groupon coupons and email.
Instead of ‘dashing through the snow’ in search of cards and yet another body wash gift set from Shoppers Drug Mart, I’m letting my fingers – and my computer – do the walking.
That’s not all bad, you know. Oh, sure, there are reasons why we should be shopping locally, rather than online, but seriously – Americans spent $7.4 BILLION on online shopping on Black Friday alone this year. The war is over, like it or not.
I’ve always loved getting those thoughtful annual Christmas cards, especially if they come with a long letter updating family on what my relatives have accomplished or survived in the previous year, but seriously… you know that these missives, no matter how beautifully presented or well- intentioned, are headed for the recycling bin in a matter of weeks.
I do have one exception to that recycling rule; my daughter has been sending me a calendar adorned with seasonal photos of my grandkids since 2005, and I treasure and carefully store these since she began the tradition. And I can tell you.. hell hath no fury like a grandmother denied her calendar because Cara forgot to pick up a little something for the postman….
Traditions are good .. doing things over and over again just because that’s the way they’ve always been done is not my style. So many of the old holiday traditions no longer make any sense to me, never mind to people fifty years younger.
And really, celebrating Christmas on December 25th wasn’t even a thing until around AD 350, when Pope Julius 1 decreed it as Santa‘s – I mean, Jesus’ – Big Day.
We’ve only been giving gifts to the kiddies and each other at Christmas since the late 1800s. Before that, people rarely gave each other anything more than something small, handmade, or edible, and those gifts were exchanged at New Year’s. In fact, early North Americans settlers, like the Puritans, actually outlawed Christmas celebrations between 1659 and 1681.
Capitalism, big corporations like Coca Cola, and really effective advertising campaigns were the impetus for goading people to get with the gift giving, in the early 1900s.
In William B. Waitts book, The Modern Christmas in America; A Cultural History of Gift Giving, he writes that “The prescient among the nation’s businessmen saw that they could use the emerging custom of Christmas gift-giving to increase their sales. Ever since, they have moved purposefully to expand gift giving in America and have enjoyed the rewards of their effort.”
This also focused attention on manufactured items, like bicycles, dolls, and vacuum cleaners, since these were items that could not be made at home.
Legend has it that the original candy cane came into existence around 1670, when a choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral, in Cologne, Germany was trying to keep the kiddy choir quiet and docile during the long Christmas service.
The custom of kissing under the mistletoe came from the ancient Druids in the UK. They believed that mistletoe was sacred, lucky, and could make people more fertile. No worries here on that front.
The Druids are also responsible for the original idea of having a holiday tree indoors. They would bring evergreen boughs into their temples as a symbol of everlasting life. It wasn’t until the 11th century that Christians began to include symbols of evergreen trees as a sign of peace and renewal.
So you see, traditions are mutable. What we thought was ‘just the way it has to be’ has changed and evolved over the years, just like every other part of our lives.
So it’s goodbye to the relatively old, and hello to the 21st century and a higher tech meant to make our lives easier. Fighting to retain what no longer makes sense just seems pointless.
Some things continue to be relevant. My pioneer ancestors would have prepared themselves for winter by stockpiling food to keep them fed during bad weather, and I continue to do a certain amount of that as well. I know that inclement weather will keep me a little cloistered and housebound for the next four or five months, but I’ve got a hoard of goodies stashed away to soothe my impatience.
But all the rest, all the geegaws and frippery that was once thought to be integral to the season, I can do without. I can enjoy tales and movies of Christmases past, but I’m not gonna cry any tears over a lack of candles on a tree – especially considering that so many of the trees I’ll see in the next few weeks will be of the plastic variety.
Times change, people change. The joy of the holidays comes from our connection to each other, not from a devotion to the past.
Enjoy those who choose to share their love and joy with you at the holidays. Family and good friends are precious, and irreplaceable.