December 03, 2006

Wishing you a merry, er, everything...

Xmas is a time of mixed emotions. Most years, my cynicism is initially raised in early November by the sight of red, white and green decorations and the sound of xmas tunes played inside all the shops. It often starts that way, with my gut telling me that the once again, hungry money-makers are trying to get me into the spirit too damned early. (Canadian retailers have nothing in November to tide them over, since our Thanksgiving happens in October, not November. Thus, they want the Xmas sales frenzy to start just a little bit earlier than south of the border.)

By now, about a week into December, personal things start to seep into my brain, like the happiness of past christmases with family and friends. With these memories and expectations in mind, a personal xmas response starts to stick to my brain like a new, wet snowfall: the warm, selfish enjoyment of fatty foods like egg nog and mincemeat tarts, the anticipation of sharing food, laughter and gifts with friends and family, and the morose internal pledge to avoid depressing thoughts and let past personal holiday letdowns (or in some cases, disasters) rest on the sidelines for a little while.

Finally, for me as the next week or two bring me closer to X-Day, there's the surrender to the reality of shopping. Every year I dread the start of Xmas shopping in crowded malls. And yet, every year I end up enjoying the sense of accomplishment and in imagining the happy reactions of my recipients. "This is just perfect for her! He'll totally love that!"

It's the same way with cards and seasonal emails and letters: the list of recipients looks long, but during the act of giving each little letter, card or email, it becomes effortless, warm, real, fun, constructive and happy.

I think it happens when your head is focused on others' happiness and gratification, instead of your own.

I'm not a Christian, although that religion and it's words and songs are uncontrollably steeped in my culture. As kids, when my sister Kim and I had sort of stopped believing in Santa, my Dad tried to inflect the season with his own version of secular Christmas spirituality, telling us that Santa Claus was the "spirit of Christmas". Dad didn't go much deeper than that, but I have since decided for myself what that "spirit" means: mostly, the ideas of giving, sharing and creating happiness.

No single belief system has the last word on compassion or morality, but with or without an organized religion or philosophy, we can all make a moment or give some money or some comfort to someone who needs it. It's got to be personal, have personal meaning or resonance, or else it's just a hollow habit that won't mean anything at all. Look outside yourself and your own needs and rehumanize yourself.

And so friends, in that spirit, regardless of who you are or what you believe, take your own moment to reflect on your good fortune and then do something nice to improve the fortune of someone else.