For most of us, the Christmas celebrations are over, and today marks the day to try and return to a more normal routine — at least until next week’s New Year’s celebrations. Christmas is a time of sharing and giving, spending time with our families and expressing our love through the exchange of gifts and greetings. Flashing back a month, Thanksgiving is the holiday we generally set aside to give thanks to those around us, especially our families, who have made a meaningful contribution to our lives. New Year’s Day is the day most of us resolve to turn over a new leaf, and try to make positive changes in our lives, for ourselves and the people we love — people like our families.
The common thread to the three holidays, one that’s basically missing from others we celebrate during the year, is the concept of families. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a family is “a household; parents and their children; relatives; all those descended from a common ancestor; a group of similar or related things.” When we think of the holidays, especially those we’ve just recently celebrated, the first several of those definitions are the ones that first come to mind.
For parents, the image of Christmas might be the look on our children’s faces when they get their first glimpse of presents under the tree. For some families, the mental picture might be lighting the candle of a parent during a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Pictures of Thanksgiving might be painted with an extended family around a table, heads bowed, as a prayer of thanks is given for the meal. Claims that this is the year to start eating better, exercising more and taking better care of ourselves will be plentiful in the next few days. Those resolutions, while benefiting ourselves, also ultimately benefit our families because as we grow healthier, we able to do more things and spend more time together.
It’s the last of the definitions that can be so frustrating at this time of year. “A group of similar or related things.” In science class we learn that there are families of plants and animals. Members of families are not identical, but contain many similar characteristics. In some respects, that would make all of humankind members of the same family.
What we have in common with our neighbors, across the street and across the ocean, would seem far greater than our differences. And yet at this special time of year many of us seem transfixed on our differences. We make those differences the focus of our intolerance toward other people, who may have slightly different beliefs or traditions than ourselves, but are still part of the family.
We point to differences in religious symbols and practices, and take offense at those differences. Rather than embrace something new, we lash out against it. The same thing goes on the secular side of the Christmas, where offense is taken at the term “happy holidays” when we’re expecting a “merry Christmas” instead. Even something as simple as the act of picking out Christmas cards can be overwhelming when all the sensitivities that must be considered are factored in. Every year, though, the anxiety and anger seem to grow.
We forget that this time of year is special for many major religions — not necessarily for the exact same reasons, but sacred nonetheless. For many, it is a time of giving and sharing with others. Almost universally, it is a season spent focusing on our children. Those three reasons alone would seem to be reason enough to set aside our anxiety and anger.
As we approach beginning of the New Year, and the resolutions that January 1 will bring, I am hopeful that many people will join me in an attempt to be more tolerant and patient in the new year — to keep an open mind when I encounter something different. It may be a dysfunctional family at times, but it’s the only one we have.
Bill Crist is associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.