Not a Grinch

The post this week is more personal than most. This time of the year could have different associations for you than for me. If that’s the case, and this doesn’t resonate with you, I’ll try and get back to my usual content soon.

The spirit of Christmas is compelling. Love, generosity, and compassion for fellow humans is an ideal that is hard to disagree with. The spirit of the season, however, often finds itself at odds with the reality of how we spend our time. Rather than focused on love and generosity, our day-to-day Christmas experience is frequently spent at the mall, entangled in a web of materialism. As the holiday season approaches, the festive spirit becomes increasingly synonymous with the exchange of material goods, of sales and deals overshadowing the values that define the season. This discrepancy between the spirit of the season and its lived reality evokes for me a sense of sadness and disconnection, a feeling that something is missing.

The season embodies a spirit of love and giving—a time when people come together to celebrate family, friendship, and community. The act of gift-giving, in its purest form, symbolizes the expression of love and the joy of sharing with others. In the contemporary context, the emphasis on material possessions has grown exponentially. The commercialization of Christmas can feel like a consumerist spectacle, where the value of gifts often eclipses the sentiment behind them. The pressure to give crowds out the spirit of generosity.

The bombardment of advertisements and the societal pressure to engage in gift exchanges can lead us to measure the success of our Christmas celebrations by the quantity and cost of presents. The deeper values of love, generosity, and compassion can be obscured, as the act of giving becomes more transactional than heartfelt. The focus on acquiring and exchanging tangible goods can feel overshadowed by the intrinsic value of human connection and shared experiences.

Perhaps this is not your experience, but for many the discrepancy between the spirit and reality of Christmas generates sense of disconnect. If you find yourself surrounded by warm feelings toward your fellow man throughout the holidays– you are doing something right. But for many, we find ourselves caught in a cycle of expectation and disappointment, as the genuine warmth of the season is overshadowed by the fleeting satisfaction of material possessions. We feel pressure to conform to norms and expectations rooted in material gift exchange; the pursuit of material abundance takes precedence over the cultivation of meaningful connection. Rather than getting to enjoy each others’ company, we worry about finding and giving appropriate gifts. We become preoccupied with finding a present rather than enjoying community.

The emphasis on material goods can also create a divide between those who can afford gifts and those who cannot. This discrepancy deepens our sense of disconnection, as the spirit of inclusivity and compassion for all is compromised. The holiday, intended to foster unity and goodwill, can inadvertently contribute to societal divisions, leaving us feeling isolated and disheartened.

Perhaps we can shift our focus, and realign with the values that underpin the celebration? After all, we can choose to emphasize experiences, acts of kindness, and genuine connections over material possessions. We can choose to spend time with our community rather than at the store. We can choose to shift towards mindful, meaningful, and more limited gift-giving, rooted in the principles of love and generosity. We can remember that our time, love, and attention is the biggest gift of all, and we can try giving that freely; perhaps that will kindle the joy of the holiday. After all, neither our time nor attention is infinite, and we have to make choices about how we spend that, just as we make choices about how we spend our money.

For me, a large part of the difficulty I feel during the season arises from the tension between what I want the season to be, and the reality of what it is. I long to focus on the people in my life free of the obligation to give gifts, yet find my attention pulled toward needing to fulfill social obligations and expectations. I also feel a sadness that we draw special attention to these values of connection, kindness, and generosity at this time of year, rather than this sentiment pervading our lives for 12 months.

In closing– Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. May the season be filled with love, laughter, and connection. And may that spirit stay with you for the rest of the year, pervading July as much as it does December.


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