I love the holidays. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas marks the most consistently happy period of my life. My parents, who separated twice and finally divorced when I was a senior in high school, always put aside their differences in December. And when you’re a child of divorce, those gestures mean more than a little. They mean a lot.
Even with the stress – what special not-asked-for gift can I think up? Where can I get the best prices? When will I have time to wrap? Who took the masking tape?? – I love it. Once the 24th comes our family settles into a deeply relaxed lull, reliably the same every year. The rush ends and we’re left with Pottery Barn-esque Christmas music, too-full bellies of cookies, a lazy, crackling fire and a bone-warming aroma wafting from the kitchen.
The only other time I sense the same feeling of peace is early in the morning when I’m walking my dog, Bowser. The day is ripe with possibility. Calm reigns. And nature, not man, is in charge.
It’s an emotion I wish would last all day, all year long. Christmas and nature make it easy to remember what many usually forget: peace begins at home.
Many are still reflecting on the nightmare in Newtown, and as well we should. This isn’t a column about gun control, a subject which I’m sure I will write about more than once over the coming weeks. But let us be clear: something good must come from this event. And while I believe an assault weapons ban is an excellent legislative beginning that is only part of a potential solution.
Violence doesn’t come from nowhere. For the most part, it is a learned behavior. Hollywood. Video games. Television. Most important, the casual cruelty of everyday life. It’s everywhere. And it’s up to us, as the saying goes, to be the change we want to see in the world.
People sometimes equate the erosion of family values with permissive lifestyle legislation. They say, see what happens when we legalize abortion and let gays get married? But I say, the real problem begins at home.
It is up to us to reestablish the common sense values we seem to have lost over the decades. We as parents have substituted reliance on expensive gadgets for discipline and preplanned activities for personal attention. We have outsourced the responsibilities we once proudly shouldered in the name of keeping up appearances.
Our priorities have shifted, like it or not. Serving the family was once at the top of the list many generations ago. Now, in our quest for ever-higher status, income and worldly trinkets, we are only serving ourselves.
Let us make the peace of the Christmas spirit a mantra for everyday life. Pay it forward and bring a smile and a kind word to everyone you see, even if they don’t smile in return.
Let’s do the little things, like helping out with chores before being asked and finally taking care of the little tasks our better halves have been hounding us about.
Let’s teach our kids to play rummy instead of shuffling them off to another activity and put spending quality time with family at the top of the priority list instead of at the bottom. For we do have time; we have the choice.
Let’s make doing small gestures of good everyday without any expectation and they’ll become a habit, and let us laugh when those good deeds are punished. Let us be present in every moment instead of listening halfway. We’ll make mistakes, certainly, and we’ll try again tomorrow.
Let us consider the person or the problem no one wants and embrace them as our own. Because regardless of grade point average or gun control laws or video game ratings or the latest Hollywood craze, only when we walk the talk of understanding will the world become a better place.
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.