The commercials become mushier. Soda pop ads feature children sitting on Santa’s knee and wishing for world peace. The radio stations start blasting Christina Aguilera’s “Wish You a Merry Christmas” and Brittney Spears’ “Jingle Bells.” The store lines become longer. Shoppers become moodier. Road rage increases on the highways. Family life becomes tense.
Ah well … Ho, Ho, Ho, and a merry Christmas to all!
Now, I adore the Christmas season with all its festoons and festivities. I delight in decorating the Christmas tree with candy canes, singing Christmas carols, sledding — all the traditional fun.
But lately all I’ve been hearing is the Christmas grumblers. You know, the kind of people who actually use the phrase, “Bah, humbug.” All this bitching and moaning is starting to dampen my Christmas spirit.
I sing “White Christmas” and someone complains about the commercialization of Christmas. I say “Happy Holidays” and someone complains about the commercialization of Christmas. I buy a present and someone complains about the commercialization of Christmas.
I can’t win!
So I have given up.
Christmas is the most commercialized, artificial day of the year.
Christmas is a time to buy, buy, buy.
Christmas is a celebration of materialism.
Ahh, the cynics of the world rejoice. Joy to the world, another eternal optimist has been converted. Another grouch will slouch on the couch during the annual fun. Another grump will “Bah, humbug” with the best of us.
But not so fast.
To save my soul from joining the pathetic mass of apathy that exists regarding the holiday season, I remember a story.
About four years ago, I traveled to Nicaragua and witnessed massive poverty and destruction. Children ran up and down busy freeways selling boxes of gum. Cows grazed on the highway median dividers. Four-year-olds pulled on my skirt, begging for money or food.
I returned from Nicaragua on Christmas Eve. I entered the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport with a feeling of disgust. I watched people laden with presents sprint through the area with holiday frenzy. I saw children pout because they didn’t receive the high-tech computer they wanted.
I hated it. I hated the stacks of toys in the mall. I hated the barrage of sale signs. I hated the constant TV ads, “Need something for that special someone?”
I fell asleep that night with a sense of dread. I did not want to celebrate Christmas.
I awoke the next morning to my three youngest brothers screaming my name. In my family, we have a tradition that, on Christmas morning, you can’t enter the living room with all the presents until everyone is awake and waiting by the steps.
I dragged my body out of bed and tried to feel enthused. My little brothers didn’t know any better. They didn’t realize that they were contributing to the materialistic state in which we all live. Especially Adam.
Adam was five. He was small for his age and moved like a grasshopper.
Adam was a foster child and had lived with my family since September. His case worker had found him in his apartment that he shared with his mom. Empty beer bottles were scattered throughout the room, along with used condoms. He was watching television and calmly stood up and left when the caseworker told him that he had to leave his mother and live with another family. His one worry was his mother. Who would take care of her?
Adam didn’t understand materialism. He didn’t understand commercialism. All he could understand was that his mom didn’t love him enough to take care of him. We didn’t tell him this; he explained it to us.
Adam had adjusted well after leaving his mother. Too well. The social workers called it an “attachment disorder.”
He was a normal boy. He played with cars. He watched Disney movies. He liked video games. But he never showed his emotions. He didn’t get very angry. He didn’t get sad. He never got excited.
My family worried and encouraged him to be sad or to yell when he was angry. But he didn’t. He would shrug and walk away. He always said, “I’m OK.”
So that Christmas morning as we gathered around the Christmas tree and exchanged gifts, I didn’t expect any excitement from Adam.
Adam stayed in the background as the gifts were passed around. I felt sicker and sicker as my gift pile began to grow. I didn’t need this. I had too much stuff already. I tore away the wrapping paper for the first gift and pasted a smile to my face as I thanked my mom. Adam watched with interest, but he wouldn’t come in the room.
I grabbed a gift that was labeled “Adam” and joined him in his solitude. As I handed him the box, he looked confused. “Nah, you can have it,” he said as he shoved the box back in my hands. “But, Adam,” I said, “Your name is on it.”
Adam studied the package and slowly traced his finger along his written name. He grabbed the box and raced to my mom. “Susan, oh Susan, look I got a present!” he shouted. He carefully unwrapped the package and folded the paper neatly. He stared at the small racing car in awe.
“Hey,” my younger brother interrupted, “Adam, aren’t you going to open your other presents.”
Adam’s eyes widened as he stared at the presents with his name. Every gift was opened carefully. Every gift was handled carefully and placed by his side. After the last gift was admired, Adam walked to my mother and enveloped her in a bear hug.
As I watched Adam, I looked more carefully at my gifts. Nope, I did not need more earrings. That neon green purse from my brothers? I wouldn’t use it. But every gift had been selected carefully with love.
Adam had never experienced this. He had never received gifts. He had never been shown affection.
Adam slowly changed after Christmas. He learned to fight. He learned to yell. He learned to cry. He also learned to laugh and to smile.
Yes, Christmas has been commercialized and canned and produced. But it also showed a little boy that people do care about him.