i’m dreaming of a polite christmas

We had fun today.

Our local Unitarian Universalist church service featured the first day of Hanukkah as its headliner, with the Winter Solstice and the approaching of Christmas as its auxiliary acts.  We clapped and sang and shared the tears and joys of the congregation, and we came away having learned something, but most of all, with restored faith in our fellow human beings, which frequently rests on shaky ground.

Especially this time of year.  I remember years of Christmas Past, when no matter how dominantly rudeness prevailed in society, everybody at least found enough decency in their souls to be cordial–even friendly–to perfect strangers during the few weeks leading up to Christmas.  After all, it was a season of love, giving, family, sharing, and joy.  It was a holiday, and even the run-of-the-mill disrespect took some time off.  (As did the restaurants, an increasing number of which now refuse to close on Christmas or Thanksgiving, but since nothing is sacred anymore, what the hell.  But that’s another matter entirely.)

Indeed, nothing is sacred these days.  Self-centered animalistic behavior is so entrenched in society that it has been hardwired into the fibers of our being.  We have officially reverted back to toddler status, like three-year-olds who selfishly and defiantly proclaim, “me first.”  And instead of taking a holiday, rudeness and impatience with others crank up a few notches.

We try to cover it up, but no amount of huge inflatable Santa yard ornaments or 24-hour Christmas music on the radio or sleighbells incessantly jingling in the background of every “buy stuff…from us” commercial is going to fool anyone.  Fat kids with chins full of melted chocolate slobber who mumble that “Santa brings me presents” as an answer when asked what Christmas means to them eventually grow up into sullen teenagers who can’t for the life of them figure out why all their teen angst didn’t evaporate when they unwrapped the spankin’ new iPod Nano.  Sure, we use fun phrases like “magic” and “this holiday season” and we sound all perky and rah-rah, but the fact is, the secular consumerist culture only encourages us to soar to new heights doing the same thing we do the rest of the year: shop.

Bit by bit, certain movements and interest groups have sought to remove all spiritual references and symbolism from “this holiday season”, banning the word Christmas from their websites and stores, relegating their employees to wishing the customers an empty “Happy Holidays” instead.  They kept Santa Claus, but only because at some pathetic point during my lifetime, he morphed from a Saint into a Bill Clinton-esque secular figure who wears shades and plays the sax.

When all of the meaning full elements of whichever holiday(s) we choose to celebrate have been removed, what is left?  A buying frenzy and nothing more, except maybe the empty promise that yet more accumulated Stuff will solve everything, somehow mending emaciated relationships or making us better people.  Top secret: it won’t.

The only thing that will make us better people and improve our lives is to treat each other with dignity and respect.  Every single world religion encourages the observation of the Golden Rule in some way, shape, or form, and no, it does not involve acquiring gold.  Do we need to inevitably trample over, shoot at, beat up, or punch out someone else for a Wii system?  Must we cut across right in front of each other on the freeway?  How do we like it when the cashier at the store continues his or her cellphone conversation instead of acknowledging his or her human existence?  Oh, we don’t?  It’s rude, we say?  Then why do we do this to cashiers dozens of times a day?

When you ignore someone or cut someone off on the road, causing them to brake to avoid hitting you or let the door close behind you in front of someone instead of holding it open for them, does that make the world a better place?  Is it really that much extra effort to be the change that you wish to see in the world (special heads-up to the pushy, snotty teenage mall kiosk salespeople)?

Saddest of all, we seem to lose sight of this fundamental the most, at a time when we’ve historically celebrated the birth of Jesus.  (For you Christians out there, Jesus was a man who lived a long time ago who railed against the mistreatment and disrespect of fellow humankind and idealized that we all would love each other no matter what our differences.  Just in case you didn’t actually know.)

Don’t look at me, I’m not the Grinch here.  The Grinch stole Christmas, and it was a cartoon.  I’m just trying to give it back to you, and I’m for real.  I’m trying harder to defend the Christmas and restore its original meaning and sentiment than most Christians out there, and I’m not even Christian myself.  Our Unitarian Universalist church is right: the human spirit and true happiness do not start with Sony, Visa, or iPod.  They start with each of us.  They start with me, and they start with you.

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