The new year is well underway, and most of the decorations one sees while driving around during the winter holiday season are gone. However, there are a surprising number of people who, like myself, enjoy the soft glow of lights on the trees we put up inside our homes so much that we are not so anxious to see them gone (especially the fire-safe, artificial variety).
I often remind people who celebrate Christmas yet are in a huge rush to dismantle all of their decorations before New Year's Eve that Christmas BEGINS on December 25th, but doesn't officially end until January 6th. That's because January 6th is the 12th day of Christmas, which is Epiphany. It is on that day that, according to legend, the three kings arrived to visit the baby Jesus.
I often hear my Christian friends reminding one another that "Jesus is the reason for the season", and yet, it seems that once the presents are unwrapped and the stockings emptied, there's as big a rush to dismantle all visual signs of the Christian holiday as there was to get the "black Friday" deals at the stores.
You'd think this wouldn't bother an atheist like me, but it does. Perhaps the biggest problem I have with it is that it seems that once the visual reminders of the holiday celebrations are gone, many people (not just Christians) develop amnesia when it comes to remembering to practice compassion and kindness.
I also happen to enjoy holiday music, especially the secular tunes. I'm so disappointed when, after playing the holiday music on the local radio stations for weeks, it comes to a screeching halt after midnight on December 26th each year.
Really? You started playing it shortly after Halloween, but you can't manage to tolerate it until January 6th? How about we wait until after Thanksgiving to START playing it, then surely we can manage to continue playing it until after the cultural holiday traditions are commpleted and the holidays have officially ended?
Most of the holidays we celebrate which are hailed as "religious" holidays are actually more secular and cultural in origin, with religions adopting and adapting them after the fact, and it is the cultural value that I appreciate most in these celebrations, since understanding what is behind them teaches us so much about our ancestors and our biological history.
Back to the diminishing compassion and kindness: I've heard people who claim to be "good Christians" judging people who leave their decorations up after New Year's as being "tacky" or "trashy". How ironic that the people who are being called tacky are the ones who are observing the full length of the holiday rather than the commercial version, which ends just as soon as the gifts are all opened.
How ironic that the theme of the holiday is kindness and compassion toward others, yet those who dismantle every possible sign of the holiday in such a rush are judging other people for such trivial things, labeling them as undesirables for attempting to keep the tenderness and beauty of the season alive as long as possible.
I've seen other signs of lacking compassion and kindness in the new year... People who are frightened by inclement weather they aren't accustomed to are ridiculed because they "don't know how to drive in the snow", with nary a thought given to the fact that they just might be motivated by a deep love for their children in the back seat to go a little more slowly than their impatient counterparts find desirable, because they just really want to make sure they (and others) get home safely.
Does anyone remember when they were first learning to drive in the snow? Have we forgotten that there are many young drivers on the road today? Call me an old sap, but when I see people slowing down far more than they probably need to as snow is falling, I find myself wishing they'd be this cautious when approaching traffic lights and stop signs even on a clear, sunny day.
Annoyance is something we all feel, and I think it can be healthy to express it, but sometimes I think we focus a bit much on the fact that we are annoyed and forget what annoyance really is: ego. Annoyance is something the ego feels when it doesn't like the fact that the world isn't catering to our wishes. It says "My desire to get where I'm going more quickly is more important than anyone else's fear or safety. My wishes are more important than anything else that could cause things to not go my way."
It seems that we are able to put our egos aside for a short while during December (at least once we've braved the stores for the gifts we hope will put a smile on our loved ones faces). However, it is a very short-lived sentiment that I would like to see year 'round, and I have noticed that those of us who can't bear to put our lighted trees away tend to have this desire for lasting compassion and kindness in common.
I'm known for being somewhat of a non-conformist, and I knew there were others like me. However, I recently happened upon a post by a dear friend of mine from grade school who was "confessing" that she still had her tree up and how she enjoyed the beauty of the soft glowing lights. I planned to comment, but first I read the other comments (as I often do). I was filled with joy when I saw post after post of others happily proclaiming their love for their tree lights still up and proudly burning, and the accompanying warmth and joy they feel as they associate those lights with time spent in the company of loved ones.
If there is anything we can and should carry into this new year, it is the knowledge that no matter how strange we think we are, no matter how others ridicule us because we don't blindly follow the masses, there are far more people just like us than we realize.
Go forward in this new year with confidence that you are not only perfectly acceptable just as you are, but that you are also in far more good company than you may ever know!