December 17, 2004, 6:10 P.M.
Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah! I got the title of this piece from a Virgin Mobile commercial on television. Their pitch is simple – whatever the holiday, their product makes a great gift. It also highlights the fact that there are a lot of holidays celebrated around the time of the winter solstice.
Christmas as we know it today is really the evolution of pagan rituals traditionally set around this time of year. Early Puritans and Congregationalists condemned the celebration of Christmas because of the pagan origins of its symbolism and because of their disdain for celebrations involving food, drink and dancing in general. Boy, has this holiday come a long way. Some might say too far.
The marketing and hype begins before Thanksgiving and has continued at a fever pitch since then. Retail business can’t help but push their advertising buck as far as they can get away with because of the extent to which they rely on Christmas business as a large part of their overall annual revenue. This simple holiday has turned into a 3 month feeding frenzy of buying and selling with little or no thought or respect for tradition, history of even religion.
While the retail world competes for the holiday dollar, many families become overextended on too-easy-to-come-by credit. Too much pressure is exerted on consumers to buy newer, more expensive and mostly imported gadgetry. I recently read an article about the revival (of sorts) of the port of New York as a destination for container ships loaded with Asian imports. The ships docking in New York are offloading 600 to 700 containers full of goods being shipped to stores across America. The ships are returning to China, Taiwan and Korea with less than 1/3 of their containers full, mostly with scrap metal and other recyclable goods. Not American made products, scrap metal. Still, we keep shopping, keep buying and keep incurring debt both individually and nationally.
Here in the Lakes Region there are great and notable exceptions to the holiday greed around us. The Santa Fund auction raised over $158,000 this year with one record-setting $55,000 day. This is truly a unique and special event, run by great people and supported by a generous community. The kids and families that will be helped by this effort, regardless of their religion, will come to know the meaning of the season regardless of what they call it.
When thinking about the holidays, we also need to think about great people like the late Fred Toll. Fred gave unselfishly of himself and his time to lift the spirit and condition of his neighbors. His life’s work was like one big Santa Fund, every day of the year. There are other people out there like Fred, but his passing should cause us to reflect on him and others like him who do their good works without the need for recognition or praise. Fred Toll will be missed, but his spirit and example speak volumes about what “giving” really means. More of us need to reflect on what we can give, rather than what we can get.
This time of the year does not belong to any one religion or country. In that respect, the secular aspect of Christmas is good. Santa Claus, whether a radio personality in a Santa hat, a retired teacher with a yellow lab, or a bearded old gent from the North Pole, does not favor folks of one color or creed. He also doesn’t work just one day of the year.
There is plenty to be done this holiday season. I have been reading about the suffering of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the economic hardships of National Guard families and soldiers, and of the needs of injured vets who will remain hospitalized for the holidays. The gift of a simple phone card will allow those soldiers access to their families that they might not otherwise have. There are National Guard armories with support groups that can offer suggestions for helping the Guardsmen and their families. Doing one thing to help a less fortunate child or family will go a long way towards rekindling the true meaning of the holidays, regardless of how else you celebrate or what you happen to call the celebration. I truly hope that you will enjoy the holiday season, spend within your means, give more than you receive and count your blessings.