This is my second attempt at a post on the subject of the 2011 Holiday Season. The first version, my wife gently but firmly explained to me, was both too dark and too depressing. This is not to say, by the way, that she took exception to my overall view that the current times are hard and — after three long years of economic stagnation and high unemployment — still pose very real, and sometimes even existential challenges to far too many American families. Instead, her central point, and the main reason for her criticism, was that for me to devote the bulk of my Holiday post to these troubling issues was to miss the real meaning and significance of the Christmas Season. She's probably right. Things could certainly be better for many of our fellow citizens, but they could also, I suppose, be much worse. And, although it is an easy thing to lose sight of during the hectic days of December, the true message of Christmas has very little, if anything, to do with decorated trees, Santa Claus, or even gift-giving; it does, however, have everything to do with the promise of spiritual redemption that came with the first "Christ's Mass", more than two millennia ago.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year; but Watch Yourself, it's a Jungle Out There!

The days leading up to Christmas, my father once ruefully commented after a particularly gruelling day of holiday gift shopping with my mother, are just a bit like wartime, in that they bring out both the very worst and the very best in people. At the time he said this many years ago, I was still very young, and really had no idea what my father was talking about. Now, I do; and if the Christmas Season appears, on occasion, to bring about an increase in public displays of human frailty; it also — often with more frequency, but with less fanfare — gives expression to the "better angels' of our natures.

Clearly, whatever else one may say about it, the current Holiday Season seems to provide abundant proof of the essential truth of at least the first part of my father's long-ago statement. For example, the Christmas gift-buying season, if the advertisers are to be believed, now starts between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Moreover, in the days leading up to Christmas, we are treated to multiple images of people who have camped out in front of huge box stores just for the chance — when "Black Friday" (the day after Thanksgiving, for my foreign readers) finally rolls around — to save a few dollars on gift items that they probably neither need nor truly value. Then there are the reports of other holiday shoppers literally coming to blows with each other over parking places in crowded mall parking lots; and for those lucky enough to make it into the stores without incident, physical altercations over dolls, or game consoles, or even tennis shoes (I can understand how someone might be willing to fight over a game console; but come on, tennis shoes?).

If the rank commercialism and frenzied silliness associated with shopping during the Christmas Season wasn't already enough, we also have to put up with the atheists — it is, after all, their favorite time of the year, too — who emerge from the woodwork during the holidays with their unpopular and oddly pathetic seasonal campaigns to remove even the tiniest hint of religious content from publicly-funded Christmas displays which, curiously enough, are associated with a federally-mandated holiday which officially celebrates Christ's birthday. Unfortunately, since more and more US municipalities and even a few private companies have decided to give in to the hackneyed legal blandishments of this tiny, but obnoxious minority; the atheists no longer have nearly as many opportunities as they once had to go after traditional religious targets such as Creches and Christmas carols; hence, in order to stay in the public eye and to promote their own virulent brand of secular orthodoxy, they have chosen to expand their anti-religious activities to include assaults against Christmas trees and traditional decorations, and — I expect, at some future point — Yule logs, Charles Dickens, and eggnog.

And, of course, no Christmas Season would be complete without the sad, but predictable spike in thievery that always seems to go hand-in-hand with the arrival of the holidays. This year is no different; in fact, the current batch of criminals somehow seems even worse than usual. Thus, we see that — from outdoor Christmas decorations to wheel chairs, from Salvation Army collection kettles to copper wire and tubing, from Church "poor boxes" to toys intended for sick children — this conscienceless band of light-fingered ne'er-do-wells has again shown up, like "Bad" Santa's delinquent helpers, to victimize anyone and everyone that they can.

If the long lines, jammed parking lots, pointless rudeness, and the various other bad behaviors that seem to proliferate during the holidays weren't enough, the mainly secular (and anti-religious) northeastern "chattering classes" also do their part to diminish the spiritual significance and joyousness of the Christmas Season. Year after year, starting around Thanksgiving, these pompous media "know-nothings" (and yes, Anderson and Shep, I mean over-paid twits like you and your friends) begin a month-long campaign devoted to recounting each and every incident of criminal activity, mob violence, or consumerism run amok that crosses their desks; their unstated message: it is these unfortunate events, more than anything else, that now define the real spirit of the season for most Americans. Given these carefully-picked examples, and others like them, it is probably no wonder that many in our society have come to see these Holiday "horror" stories as yet more proof of the coarsening of American culture and of the fraying of the country's social compact. And yet, along with this dreary collection of holiday tales showing societal anomie, there are also stories that vindicate the second, positive part of my father's wartime-holidays analogy.

Christmas may be under assault by the forces of militant secularism, but it has not yet been vanquished. Thus, we see, on the one hand, thieves vandalize and rob a church, and on the other, a former convict find a stranger's wallet with over a thousand dollars in it and, against the odds, return the wallet and cash to its owner. In another instance, the basement of a childrens' orthopedic hospital is broken into and thousands of dollars worth of donated toys and other items are stolen; in response, legions of donors, both large and small, come forward to replace the hospital's losses three-fold. Then there is the relatively recent phenomena — a response, perhaps, to the country's current difficult economic times — of anonymous good Samaritans visiting Walmart and other stores with, it would seem, no other purpose than to pay off the "lay-away" balances of perfect strangers so that those strangers would be able to retrieve their purchases in time for Christmas. Stories like this — which rekindle both our sense of the true meaning of Christmas and our faith in our fellow human beings — abound during the Holiday Season; we have only to look for them.

Needless-to-say, not all of the thousands of individual acts of kindness and generosity that occur day-in and day-out during the Holidays are quite as notable as those mentioned above. Nonetheless, they are all important because of what they represent. The harried shopper, for example, who, in spite of the many pressures of the moment, still takes the time to stop, dig through her purse, and to place a donation in a Salvation Army kettle has, whether she realizes it or not, affirmed her faith in the simple value of "doing good". The teenager or the retired senior who volunteers to help with a local food or toy drive, both, in their own way, contribute to the spiritual impact of the Christmas season. Hundreds of thousands of times every day, someone holds a door open to let someone else who is in a bigger hurry or carrying more packages, or holding a child's hand, enter or exit a room or building first. In fact, each selfless gesture, whether great or small, adds — in my view, at least — something intangible but very real to the peculiar person-to-person magic that is an integral part of Christmastime.

For most of us, the Christmas Season is a time when friends and family — even those who, during the rest of the year, are separated by great distances — gather together to share conversation, food, and presents. Certainly, for most people, these seasonal reunions are a genuine high point, and the exchange of gifts — especially for the children — is an important feature of the Holiday. Still, no matter how generous we are to our friends and family, there is, whether we wish to admit it or not, an implied quid pro quo element when it comes to exchanging Christmas presents with those with whom we have a personal bond. Thus, precious as these family times around the Christmas tree are, I think that most of us know in our hearts that they do not capture the real essence of the Holiday — the "spirit of the Magi" — in the same way that the act of giving to complete strangers does. That being said, I appeal to those of my readers who can afford it, to give something — be it time or money — to help those who are most in need during this special time of the year. If you do, I sincerely believe that, of all the gifts that you give this Christmas, you will find that those that go to strangers will turn out to be the most personally satisfying of all.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to my readers both here and abroad, may you all have a joyous and safe Holiday.



  • That was a very nice Christmas message Joe.

    I did 1 Black Friday around 8 years ago ,going with my Ex-Wife,Mother to Walmart at 5 am to get a 27" TV for her Dad who was living with us(he was in very bad health).Well that was the first & last Black Friday I did or will ever do again-Just like the sceens on TV it was a mess and so many rude people(and I live in a city of 70,000).
    Just look at the nuts waiting for the Air Jordan's yesterday-Another stroming of the stores and the mace and even gun shots over s freaking sneaker.Can't people chill out for the holiday's and be just slightly kinder.

    The Little Red Kettle outside the stores.You give one week and then go to that store the next week a day or two and walk by and don't put in saying to youself you gave already.then a guilty pain hits you and you give again there or at another store.It's not much,maybe another dollar or two but still I know it helps a little.
    I sure can't pass up the Amvets or whoever when they do their poppy or shamrock flower drive.It's not much but it's helping the vets.

    I told my Mother on Friday sitting over at her house how Christmas isn't the same like it was as a young lad or even a teenager getting those special toys or wargames each year(I always got 2-3 games under the tree and another 2 a month later for my Birthday.Oh the thrill of it all.
    Well This morning the US mail brought a book I was needing for research for a game design and also a package with 4 games I had bought for myself(not expense games ,just some S&T/World at War issue games I was wanting badly).They were promply placed under my tree and opened this eveing around 8 pm,just a little while ago when Mom and I opened our gifts.The thrill was still there but it's going to be coming even more so when I sign off from here and alone(already took Mom back home-It's past her bed time!) to really relish them slowly(Got to have something to drool over).Yes a kid still after all these years.Whats a X-Mas without the item's I loved 45 yrs ago and still do today.

    But the real kicker tonight was on the Nightly news(NBC)they had on for the very last item the surprise the returning troops had planned for their families not knowing they were back and springing out on them at concerts,seeing Santa or whatever they were doing-That brought a tear to this 55 yr old Veteran(Army) seeing that.It also brought back memories of the holiday season when I was in the service.

    Some things will always stay with a person for the fond memories they had as a child or older that was special to them.
    I know they still do for me.

    Joe,Hope you and your family have a very Happy Holiday Season and a safe one plus also to all those who post or read on this site.

  • Greetings Kim:

    Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts about the Christmas Season; both are much appreciated.

    I confess that, when my wife told me to chuck my first Holiday Greeting for this year, I was more than a little irritated; but, of course, upon reflection, I realized that she was right. A catalog of previous Christmas Seasons that had been celebrated during wartime -- from Valley Forge to those of the Civil War; from December, 1941 to Bastogne, 1944; from Korea to Vietnam; and from Iraq to Afghanistan -- might have been of interest to me (besides, I had already amassed a bunch of period illustrations), but they did not really get at the true essence and impact (at the personal level) of the season. In the end, I'm glad both that I listened to her and that you enjoyed the (much shorter) piece.

    My sincerest wishes for a

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

  • your post ties in nicely with the Pope's plea this year to "to see through the superficial glitter and commercialism of the season and rediscover the real significance of the humble birth of Jesus." thanks again for your advice and friendship. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, brian

  • Greetings Brian:

    Thank you for visiting and for your comments.

    The current Pope is an interesting man who combines a powerful intellect with an equally deep humility. I read a number of his writings many years ago when he was still Inquisitor General (yes, the post still exists) and I was still a graduate student.

    In any case, my sincerest wishes for you and yours to have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    Best Regards,

  • Your wife is a wise woman. I hope you and yours had a joyous Christmas. I look forward to visiting your blog in 2012. All the best, Joe.

    Ed Pundyk

  • Greetings Ed:

    Thank you for visiting and for your thoughtful words.

    Yes, after thirty-seven years of marriage, I have been forced to come to the same conclusion: I make a lot of the "noise" in our relationship, but she is, and always has been, the "moral center" of our family.

    My Very Best Wishes go out to you and yours during this Holiday Season, Joe

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