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Friday, December 26, 2014

What Happened to Christmas?

What happened to Christmas this year?

The television was filled with screaming commercials about finding 'the perfect gift.' The mail and the newspaper were chock-full of ads for everything from jewelry to pajamas to appliances. The news was filled with stories about the rush of last-minute shoppers. But despite the frenzy, something was missing this year.

Several people mentioned that they just didn't feel the Christmas spirit this year. I understand this sentiment, as I felt exactly the same way. I wasn't much in the Christmas spirit last year either, but I attributed this mostly to my age and the fact that I'm fed up with the overly commercial aspects of this holiday. And of course at my age, I don't want more stuff. There is nothing I need; there is nothing I want.

Even my 21-year-old daughter didn't have the Christmas spirit. So what's behind the holiday malaise this year? Is it the racial discord, the protests and riots that have been sweeping the country? Is it a general change in our country's attitude toward life and the world? Is it an improving, but still somewhat shaky, economy? Or is it, as I suspect, the over-commercialization of what was once a religious holiday? The push to buy, buy, buy for Christmas now begins in August, and it never lets up until the holiday. The traditional greeting of 'Merry Christmas' has been supplanted by 'happy holidays' or 'season's greetings' so as not to offend anybody. Why can't we wish people a Merry Christmas? If someone doesn't celebrate Christmas, fine. Just smile and say 'thank you. The same to you.'

I suspect that what this country needs is a return to old values. We need to rediscover the value of family and friends, the importance of the simple things in life, and focusing on what we have rather than on what we think we need. We need to look for opportunities to be of service to others, for opportunities to share our blessings, our talents and our time. What we share with others will ultimately come back to us tenfold. I believe that if more of us would do this we would find a greater sense of personal satisfaction and perhaps some of the emptiness we feel despite our always busy lives would be replaced by feelings of accomplishment.

Do we really need to get up long before dawn to stand in a long line to fight for the latest electronic gadget? Do we need to put ourselves into debt in order to prove to our family members that we love them? Can we not be satisfied with the gifts of spending time with those we care about, or with making and sharing simple gifts with others?

I was pleased to read a heartwarming article in today's newspaper about the congregation of an Albuquerque Jewish synagogue that prepared and served breakfast on Christmas morning at a homeless shelter so the employees could spend the morning celebrating with their families. Although the members of the synagogue don't celebrate Christmas, they certainly exemplified the Christmas spirit. Even better, several families brought their children to help because they want to instill in them the spirit and importance of giving back.

So kudos to the members of Congregation Albert for helping me see that the spirit of Christmas still lives.