My work is providing Christmas for four military families.
This morning, I watched the HR coordinator get teary as she dealt with the piles and piles of toys and clothes that co-workers had heaped on her desk.
“I know there are a lot of nice people here,” she said, “but you never know how people may be giving outside of work. This generosity is totally unexpected.”
Keep in mind, that generosity is happening in the midst of layoffs.
Whatever you celebrate in December, chances are generosity enters into it. Charity is an ancient and wonderful impulse, one of those things that truly separates us from the other members of the animal kingdom.
It’s ironic that Saul of Tarsus, the person who wrote most eloquently about charity, was a curmudgeonly asshole. Saul — or Paul, if you’d rather — is known for many things, but mincing words isn’t one of them.
If you can’t sincerely express charity, you are nothing, you scumbag, he (pretty much) wrote.
You’ve heard this before; it’s the squishy verse regularly misapplied to romantic love during wedding ceremonies. Contrary to popular belief, Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians was espousing faith, hope and charity – which, to Paul, was the highest manifestation of humanly love.
I’m still deciding how I’ll allot my holiday giving, but it will certainly involve at least one thing on this list. For me, that is what these December holidays are about.
Here’s what they aren’t about: using words to be passive-aggressive.
This is the time of year when some people like to meet sincere verbal manifestations of goodwill as an opportunity to Make a Point, especially if they can then go post about it on Facebook.
If a checker wishes you “happy holidays” and you choose to interpret this as an affront to your faith, and you then express this to everyone within earshot, you are a dick. Congratulations for making that person’s day worse! Merry Christmas!
I suggest interpreting the phrase “happy holidays” as whatever you want it mean:
- Happy birthday Jesus!
- Have a drunken New Year’s!
- Gorge yourself stupid!
- Enjoy your bottle of vodka and the company of your cats!
The great thing about “happy holidays” is that the words happy and holidays are so inclusive — everyone has an idea of the happiest way to spend a holiday. So think of what that means for you, and assume that the other person means it too.
I know that, for Christians, Jesus is the most important part of Christmas. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Christmas is still about charity. And politicizing well-intended kindness is uncharitable to say the least.
This led me to my annual Wikipedia k-hole of December celebrations. There are a lot.
Like, a lot.
You know about the obvious ones:
Hanukkah — applesauce or sour cream? This is a false choice. HAVE BOTH. This not-super-important Jewish holiday was transformed in the 20th century to include stringing up lights, giving gifts and frying up potatoes.
Christmas — you know, what most of America celebrates. This is not to be confused with…
Christmas Eve — helpful for children of divorced parents and people who want to go to church and not have it ruin actual Christmas. For my family, this is the only day of the entire year that we all see a movie in the theater together.
Kwanzaa — designed for African Americans to reflect on important community values while coming down from the Christmas crazies.
Let’s not forget about:
Feast of St. Nicholas — by rights, Santa should be flying down your chimney on December 6, the true feast day of the portly gift-giver.
Saint Lucia’s Day — this one takes place today and is celebrated in lots of countries, from Norway to Croatia to Spain. It tends to involve cookies and processions of young girls carrying candles pretending to be St. Lucy, who got her eyes gouged out by some pagans. Yaaay?
Yule — this was Christmas before there was Christmas — evergreens, gorging, getting wasted. So, basically all the good parts of Christmas with none of the shopping and the unsanitary birthing conditions. This is what my ancestors observed, and though I don’t worship Odin, may he bring us luck in battle, I really like the rest of it.
Beiwe – on the winter solstice, the Saami, indigenous people of Scandinavia, worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of both fertility and sanity (!). They sacrifice white female animals and cover their doorposts with butter. This does not make less sense than Santa Claus.
Dōngzhì Festival — get used to this one, it’s what our future Chinese overlords celebrate! It takes place on the solstice and involves eating dumplings, definitely one of my most favorite foods. Count me in, overlords!
Festivus — for the rest of us. Feats of Strength and Airings of Grievances take place on December 23. Entering a retail store not playing Christmas songs on that day can appropriately be attributed to a Festivus miracle.
New Year’s Eve – which is, hooray, super fun and not the least bit religious!
New Year’s Day – which tends to involve a headache that’s mitigated by feelings of a fresh start.
Día de los Tres Reyes (aka Epiphany) — this happens on January 6, so it’s cheating a little bit. But Christians, did you know that this is the most important gift-giving day for many Christians? Most of Latin America, in fact. This makes sense, since the day commemorates the OG gift-givers, the three magi. For the record, the magi were Persian Zoroastrians.
I don’t care the least bit how you choose to light up these dark December nights. I hope you have fun doing it, I hope you’re with your family (or not, whatever is more pleasant) and I hope you eat something really delicious. And if you wish me a Glorious Kwanzaa or a Meh Festivus, I will respond in kind, regardless of whether I personally light multicolored candles or erect an aluminum pole.