Christmas (now often relabeled as “the Holidays” for maximum political correctness) tends to be forced to win back a substantial percentage of secular Bay Area residents every year. After all, it’s hardly a secret that there are quite a few things to be grumpy about in the highly commercialized aspects of contemporary Christmastime.
We can easily get taken over by an obstacle course of irritatingly overcrowded malls, retail districts, airports and highways. We are bombarded by hard-sell pressures to max out our credit cards on more gifts than we can truly afford. Every autumn, the inescapable Christmas songs and decorations seem to arrive earlier than the year before.
For some, this can all add up to a subtly queasy feeling that the whole season’s festivities have been repurposed into a trap designed to make us shop till we drop. Retail statistics present the post-Thanksgiving gift-shopping finale as almost a national sporting event — if overall spending totals are up, somehow we are all winners.
But luckily, as the more annoying aspects of a Christmas run-up get crossed off people’s to-do lists, the underlying beauty of the traditional yuletide atmosphere somehow re-emerges more clearly. It happens even for those among us who start the season from a more “bah, humbug!” perspective.
Perhaps here in America more than anywhere else, Christmas has become particularly diverse and all-inclusive. True, it does deliver deeper rewards of faith to Christian believers. Yet, you don’t need to be particularly religious in any way to become caught up in the uplifting attitudes long associated with Christmas spirit. Exemplifying the inclusive force of America’s feel-good yuletide, other spiritual year-end celebrations such as Hanukkah and Kwanza have shifted somewhat more toward exchanging gifts — although probably not quite with traditional Christmas intensity.
You may be Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, only nominally Christian, agnostic or a nondoctrinaire atheist. But a universal effect of the Christmas spirit is that it seasonally returns to the forefront a welcome reminder of how good it feels to be more aware of our nurturing connections to others in our lives; how satisfying it is to be able to think seriously about the higher aspirations of the human race; and how much goodness can be found in the hearts of everyday people throughout the world.
There’s nothing wrong with “peace on Earth, good will to all men” as an ideal to strive toward. And during this time of year, it seems noticeably easier to think about how such a goal may come closer, without feeling foolishly naive. That in itself is a perfectly fine reason for everybody to look forward to a merry Christmas.