Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The season of what?

From a United Way promotion for "Giving Tuesday",
A common set of sensations seems to drape themselves around me at this time of year. I've noticed the pattern for the past decade or so, and more acutely over the past six years. It's a sense of despair, disappointment, disenchantment, and emptiness rolled into a container of grumpiness, stinginess, and guilt. Bells for the Salvation Army are ringing on a multitude of street corners. Non-profits and other charitable entities step up their call for donations. Workplaces put out the plea to co-workers, and retailers urge you to find the best gifts at the best prices at their stores. Coupled with these entreaties to give are holiday parties: RSVPs just when you are about to be buried in student assignments, and requests for a home-baked potluck. Calls to join cookie-baking contests, and to participate in every single imaginable form of holiday cheer. The end result for me is sadness and guilt. I start to feel like a stingy selfish penny pincher, wondering why I am not inclined to give as freely as I do during the rest of the year.

Parsing this out in my brain over the past several days has led me to think that we've developed the wrong ideas about the meaning of Christmas. I don't mean wrong ideas in the sense of holiday commercialization or festivity overload. I also don't mean wrong ideas over whether or not "Christ" is a part of Christmas, or whether it's best to use what appears to be the latest "politically correct" phrases: ie, Happy Hanukkah for those who celebrate it, or Best wishes for whatever you celebrate. What I mean is the constricted space of giving that we've confined to maybe 35 to 40 days, and the resultant pressure that it puts on all of us.

It strikes me as particularly odd that appeals for money, for gifts, for help, for celebrating have been relegated to such a narrow window of time. It also strikes me as a bit incredulous that we as a society would expect that one's capabilities to come through on any of these things would be any different in December than at other times of the year. I still get paid every two weeks -- and my check is no larger in December than it is in July. My bills don't go away. They're still due on what is generally a monthly basis. And in a similar way people who are in need of food, of clothing, of shelter, of assistance with rest or with medical bills don't suddenly lose that need after the season of giving comes to an end.

I give as much as I can of my money, my food, my time, my labor and perhaps most importantly my heart all year long. Why might it not be useful to just continue that pattern in December instead of forcing an intensification of action?

As for celebrating, I enjoy holiday parties -- on a monthly, or maybe bi-monthly basis. Why relegate them all to some time period that vaguely seems to be December 12 through 19, and force me to make choices between two or three parties, getting some work done, and keeping up with my workouts? Wouldn't it be easier and more in the spirit of Christmas (or whatever it is that one wants to call this time period) to sustain the joy of sharing food and fellowship throughout the whole year?

I am human, of course, and I pore through Internet ads, newspaper circulars, and special deals e-mailed to me with longing, perhaps even lust. And in some ways I do hoard up a whole lot of shopping for the last week of November and all of December and some of January in the spirit of snagging the best deals possible on items that are functional and fun. Ladies leather gloves for $6 a pair. I can use those. Running tights or leggings that are winter weight for $5. Bring them on. Snow caps, shovels, roof rakes, tarps, bags of walnuts, tins of roasted cashews -- great items that will not go to waste.

But then I remember. This is the season of "giving". So I should be shopping, not for myself but for others. But which others? Nearly everyone I know -- fortunately -- has what they need, and probably would be perplexed by the sight of me showing up at their doorstep grinning with a gift-wrapped snow cap or red-ribboned blue tarp ($2.99) in hand. And while those are great gifts for my husband and me, I know that we won't treat them as gifts if we buy them for ourselves. We'll regard them as necessities for the farm and our quiet life together in the country.

So what does it mean to have a season of giving? Could we eliminate the season, and just make it a year-round affair? It might glitter less. It might look a little less pretty, and it might not even seem like much of a gift. But perhaps it might be a more worthy, more lasting expression of kindness, generosity, durability, and value if it came not in a flood but in a trickle of sharing throughout the year.

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