Christmas, American Style, is upon us once again. It's a rather strange mix of disparate elements: Trees and tinsel, neighborhoods aglow with LED lights and plastic reindeer, Black Friday and Midnight Mass, Silent Night and Rudolph, hot cocoa by the fireplace and shop 'til you drop, family gatherings at Grandma's house and traffic jams ten miles long.
It is a time of music, memories, civil and religious tradition, and feel-good stories, followed by large credit card bills.
And then of course there is football.
It was not always thus, of course. Christmas has been observed in a wide variety of ways through the centuries.
People like the "Pilgrims" in early America wanted nothing to do with the holiday. The fact that it fell very near the winter solstice often made it a time of revelry and dancing, with lots of food and booze.
In 1659 they actually made Christmas observance illegal. Black Friday would have blown their minds.
Most folks today observe the season in one way or other, or celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or some other traditional holiday. But lots of people are rather conflicted about Christmas. Some are uncomfortable with the commercial focus of what they see as essentially a religious holiday, remembering the child in the manger in Bethlehem. Others are uncomfortable with any public religious association and symbolism of the season.
The season may add to the stress of those who don't have the financial capacity to "do Christmas." Most just go with the flow as best they can, and celebrate the season without getting too worked up over the confusion of what it's about. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I leave it to you to decide.
I think most of us want our Christmas to be something more than the parties and the food and the gifts and the traditions. Something in the season draws our attention to those off-the-radar people who struggle with poverty, or pain, or loss, or despair: families hanging on through long-term unemployment, homeless children, those who suffer abuse, or rejection, those who Haddon Robinson has called "the last, the least, the littlest, and the lost."
I think one of the best gifts we can give our children for Christmas is the experience of solid satisfaction which comes with giving something to someone who really needs it, and not wanting anything in return. Our children can learn things from the poor they can never learn from the rich. They can learn values from outsiders they can never learn from insiders. Christmas is a great time to show our children how to be decent and generous human beings. Whatever their future may hold, those values will serve them well.
Christmas, and the holiday season, American style, is what it is; a mix of elements reflecting our complex, pluralistic, commercialized, high-tech society. It is religious, secular, local and global. Black Friday, Green Monday, advertising come-ons, the seasonal fixation of the media, are here to stay.
But Christmas, my style, your style, Christmas up close and personal, is what we make it. Oh, we'll do the shopping, give the gifts, eat the goodies, send the cards, go to the parties, talk about the memories, keep our own traditions of the season. Those things are great. They are part of who we are, our heritage, our history.
But If I want to find a deeper meaning in my Christmas, I'm going to have to find it in the ways I express my faith beyond opinions, as I share my abundance with those who have little, as I share my love with those who are hated, and as I share my presence with those who are alone.
JIM DINSMORE lives in Tehachapi.