I love the cold weather that sweeps over the northern and eastern parts of the country. It signals the resurgence of the traditions that embody the holiday season – Thanksgiving dinner, putting up the Christmas tree, playing holiday songs for a month, drinking hot apple cider and mulled wine, mailing holiday cards, and spending time with loved ones, even those from afar.
My love for the season is a bit of a turnabout for me. I wasn't much for Christmas, generally, but my mother and sisters loved it so much that I always made the effort. For a couple of years after my mother died I didn’t want to celebrate it at all. I still struggle with the idea that I can’t sit at the dinner table with her and laugh at something she says. Without my mother the holiday generates something akin to empty feelings for me.
Last year I decided to step it up and get out of my funk. I still have my siblings and friends and the season is important to them. While I wasn’t ready to do the whole big family dinner and celebration (I’m still not), I’m enjoying the other things that the holiday season brings with it.
I bought my first proper Christmas tree last year and dressed it up with a pile of new decorations. Yes, I’m an atheist and for me, the tree is not so much a religious symbol, but rather one of good memories. I laid the skirt of the tree down, and my cat immediately took up residence on it…for a whole month. She loved the tree! When I took it down in January she was so forlorn looking for her hidey-hole, I had to use a dining chair covered with a blanked and a heat pad under it to replace the tree. She’s lived under the damn chair all year!
My family and friends appreciated my "re-venture" into the holiday season by giving me ornaments for the tree. And sending out holiday cards was so much fun for me. I made each holiday card myself, putting my own stamp on it.
So, it should be no surprise that the 2014 season has been eagerly anticipated for me. I hosted Thanksgiving yesterday, and tomorrow I will put up the tree! Preparing for this season has been a small mission for me, getting all the materials I need, planning out weekends and evenings with military precision to ensure that holiday cards get made and mailed in time. Everything must be executed precisely! And any gifts I make will be handmade.
Please understand that this is not a criticism of anyone purchasing gifts. I’m all for careful thought going into gifts that will make someone happy, regardless of whether that gift is purchased or handmade. What each person chooses to do is his or her personal and private choice.
I can only explain my reasons for doing it this way as my recognition for each moment of happiness I experience this year, I feel an equal sourness about how commercialized the season is.
The commercials, promotions, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, this sale, that sale, the constant battering on the human psyche that you must prepare for the holiday, you must buy toys and gifts because that is what will make people happy!
Well, great! It’s all part of the season. But in addition to that, what about the people who can’t prepare, and buy, and who have no family or friends? What about those who still wonder where their next meal will come from?
How many commercials do we see about feeding the hungry not only during the holidays, but every day? Not that many. I estimate that for every 50 commercials about toys, and gifts for him and her, cars, furniture and more “stuff” we absolutely don’t need, there is a single 15-second commercial about giving back.
How many people switch channels, or ignore the leaflets handed out on the streets by organizations asking for donations at this time of year? I know I am guilty of doing that. I tell myself that I can’t take on everyone’s concerns on my shoulders, and move on.
So, here is the point (finally!).
December 2nd is #GivingTuesday, the global day to focus on giving back, be it with money, time, or goods. There should be no need for only one day a year to do this, but the fact is that without it most of us might not remember that the holiday season is not a holiday for everyone.
The organization I volunteer with as a mentor, After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, is promoting #GivingTuesday in a rather special way. Together with other volunteers, we man the ABCD helpline, helping those affected by breast cancer get through the next phase of their lives. This next phase may be the holiday season. Some won’t be celebrating, some may be in chemo chairs, recovering from surgery, or will be alone through their treatment, or are care-giving. Follow ABCD on Facebook to see what I and other mentors say about what ABCD means to us and why #GivingTuesday is so important.
If you are able to, please give back this Tuesday. It doesn’t have to be money or donating a gift, even though those are all welcomed by many organizations. A smile for someone who is going through difficulty can brighten his or her day, and costs us nothing.
It also is worth remembering that we are mere mortals. As much as we would like to we can’t solve all the problems in the world on our own, but collectively we can make a small dent in one person's world.
As I see in this holiday season by giving and enjoying what it means to me, my tree, my cat, and I wish you happy holidays as you see in the season by giving and enjoying what it means to you.