I have a cynical, borderline scrooge attitude about the holiday season, yet year after year I am pleasantly surprised by what is commonly known as that warm fuzzy feeling. Those who know me personally, however, might be rightfully skeptical about my making such a statement.
After all- my favorite holiday song is “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” (and just to be clear, no I do not hate my grandma, the song is just hilarious). I also firmly believe Bad Santa didn’t get a fair shot at joining the ranks of “holiday movie classics”- and I never got the fuss over eggnog until I learned it was spiked, but I assure you, underneath the sarcasm there is some warm and fuzzy.
But before I digress, allow me to offer some insight.
The lack of holiday celebrations during my childhood is perhaps partly responsible for my cynicism. I was raised in a Christian home, but not the ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ kind of Christian home. The particular denomination my parents chose to follow didn’t celebrate with trees and Santas or for that matter, really celebrate anything other than, well…Jesus; which is all well and good, except none of the celebrations included a day in which I could expect at least one itsy tiny little gift.
“Jesus,” my father would say, “does not need one day. He should be celebrated year round and his gift of life is the only gift we need.”
I am sure many of you reading this are nodding in agreement, but that’s kind of hard to swallow when you’re seven and all the cartoon break commercials revolve around toys.
Sure, my parents, who were never ones to miss out on good sales, purchased us clothing and if we were lucky a toy or two, and because my birthday happens to fall three days after Christmas there was always something extra for me, but I was never once led to believe that the necessities my parents bought us were gifts, much less, rewards for having been good during the course of the year.
Christmas day would come and go in my house just like any other day. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that I was one of those kids who told the other kids there is no such thing as Santa. It was not that I lacked holiday cheer, it was just my cheeriness was about other things, like not having to go school.
As I grew into a teenager the holiday season was a bit awkward because my friends would all exchange gifts (and lacking a job of my own I also knew that asking my parents for money to buy my friends gifts would be futile). As a result, I was always on the receiving end and never on the giving end, but it was during these years that I can recall my first warm and fuzzy moment.
One of my friends asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” An innocent and thoughtful question but one that I dreaded for the reason stated above. My response was that I would not be buying her a gift and thus she should not get me one, to which she promptly responded, “Just because you can’t give a gift doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get one.”
That was the first time my holiday perspective began to change.
Oddly enough when I came home from college during my winter breaks I began celebrating Hanukkah; a holiday that growing up was definitely overshadowed by Christmas much more than it is today. My parents had divorced during my high school years- somehow leading mom to Judaism. I have to admit that the presents wrapped in paper decorated with menorahs and tied with blue ribbons were a nice change, but it was much nicer to actually have a newfound family tradition. Helping my mom prepare such a large and delicious meal (despite always screwing up the latkes) has given us a new bond.
Sure, I did not grow up with any holiday traditions, but now I seem to have many and even though I am not Jewish or Christian, I enjoy celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas with my friends and family. I still enjoy a good debate about the consumerism that is peddled during this time of year and unlike my neighbors- my front yard has not turned into a cluttered display of giant blow-ups and an electricity bill nightmare; yet I have discovered the joy of the season.
It is not about gifts, even though, yes, it is nice to buy stuff for others and the joy on my three-year old nephew’s face was totally worth the overpriced Thomas the Train accessories, but the real reason for the season, regardless of what you celebrate, is about gathering with the people that matter the most to you.
I am still unsure whether someday I will give Santa the credit for a gift I buy my kids but I am certain that years from now I hope I am doing exactly what I have done and will do this holiday season. Gather with my friends for a night of gorging, drinking and creative gift exchanges (this year we exchanged lotto tickets, but no one won). Celebrate Hanukkah with my family and Christmas with my husband’s and ring in the New Year overflowing with holiday joy and cheer.