This is the holiday season and, for many it is a time filled with special memories of childhood. For parents, it is the time of memory making by living into genuine warmth, forgiveness and acceptance. Many people decorate, shop for special gifts to express fondness for friends and family. I believe that it is important to have a festival time to mark the years and to lift spirits beyond the turmoil, heartache and disappointment that can occasion life.
However, we must remember that this holiday is also one of the most emotionally devastating for some among us. The pressure to conform to the holly jolly program can be so stressful that it leads to illness and depression. Not everyone has warm-fuzzy parents or sugar-plum memories of holidays past. It is also a time when the pressure to buy leads to increased callousness in stores with shoppers and shopkeepers alike harried by the demand of the increased volume of customers and competition to purchase the latest “hot thing.” It reminds me of a caption under a Snoopy comic strip scene, are we having fun yet?
I am not even sure if we know the answer to this question. Yes, fun is associated with entertainment, excitement, and pleasure—to be certain much of this is going on in this season. However, we are very caught up in the blitz of tinsel and glamour; it makes me wonder how much of this is truly joyous? I am not trying to be a party pooper, I simply wish to inspire us to search ourselves and be more mindful of the atmosphere we set in our homes. The gifts ought not all be wrapped in boxes under the tree. It might be wise to offer experiences for our family and friends to share later in the year, tasks around the home, shared volunteer work at a local agency, a commitment to eat dinner together more regularly, visiting a local exhibit, attend festival or worship service of the season or some other activity not directly associated with Santa and the mall.
As one who works with adolescents, I am concerned about the heightened association of acquisition with self-worth and how this can adversely impact social interaction among teens. For them there is a very fine line between having fun and being ridiculed for having/being less than the “norm.” You can walk into almost any classroom, social hall or school cafeteria and witness the incisive pendulum swing between fun and ridicule with emotional scars and bolstered egos scattered from one corner of the room to the next. The other side of the fun question is boredom—the countless numbers of youth who have no expressive or intellectual link to this season at home or in their neighborhood and for many they can be in the midst of the brightest display of the season and feel completely unconnected. These are young people who may always be asking, are we having fun yet?
Many of our youngsters in New York City are facing decisions about the next phase of their lives beyond high school; some struggle just to get through each day. My hope is that they hear words of acceptance and feel valued for who they are regardless of their circumstance. I want to anticipate helping hands, patience and encouragement as part of the gifts they receive in this season and all year.
Let us not be blinded by the usual trappings; let us remember that the heart of this season is compassion and care for humanity. This holiday is not a trip to the amusement park.