Depending on when y’all read this column, it’s Thanksgiving or Black Friday or Iron Bowl Saturday or the first Sunday of Advent — in short, Thanksgiving Weekend. And that kicks off the holiday season.
For many reasons, I love this time of year. I feel “boy-ish” … well, as “boy-ish” as I can feel at this age. The Christmas Season is still a time of wonder for me. Increasingly, however, I’m having to fight for that wonder.
The biggest foe of “boy-ish-ness” is “adulting.” That word is a recent addition to the English vocabulary, I thought, until I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED defines it as “The action or process of becoming, being, or behaving as an adult; (now) esp. the carrying out of the mundane or everyday tasks that are a necessary part of adult life,” and has its earliest known use in 1921.
The more common use — those “everyday tasks that are a necessary part of adult life” — is more recent, showing up in 2018. It’s quite the buzzword now on the internet. The key to balance is taking care of adult business while retaining the wonder of childhood — Ralph Waldo Emerson (sort of) pointed that out back in the 1830s.
So much of what we think is new actually isn’t. I could fuss about the commercialization of the holidays, but people have been doing that for a long time, too. Likewise, I could fuss about the fact that I’ve already heard Christmas music being played two weeks before we’ve even had Thanksgiving, but we’ve all heard that tune. The “true meaning of Christmas” refrain? Sung by Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol,” 1843. And I’m sure I could think of an earlier occurrence of the theme if I put my mind to it — that’s simply the easiest, most familiar example.
I could also point out that “holiday” derives from “holy day,” but that’s so self-evident as to be common sense. Of course, “holy days” lose their intensity as we become complacent to their meanings. After all, don’t most of our holidays revolve around some associated food these days, eaten together with family? We lose the theological meanings over time as we indulge in the material meanings of the holidays — in other words, a set of traditions we always perform on those days.
What’s got me thinking about this idea is another trend I’ve noticed the past few years on the internet — around about this time of year, there are a lot of articles about “winning” the various holidays. At first, I thought it was funny … now, I’m exasperated with it.
“Winning Thanksgiving”? Really? That attitude elevates the material aspects of the holiday above the reason for its celebration in the first place. “Winning Thanksgiving” — any holiday, for that matter — is all about how to perfect the material tradition of it.
It’s not like they’re giving out an award or anything. It’s not like there will be a televised ceremony with stars gathering on a red carpet beforehand and a hushed moment at the end of the telecast when some celebrity or other in tuxedo or evening gown slowly and dramatically reads out the nominees while the camera flashes on them, trying to look humble while secretly coveting the trophy, and the announcement, “And the winner of Thanksgiving 2022 is …”
There has never been a “perfect” Thanksgiving celebration for anyone to “win.” It’s more like family and friends gathered together eating and remembering — we all “win Thanksgiving” by celebrating Thanksgiving. And we win all the holidays by celebrating them.
Think of Christmas — theology aside, it might be said that Christmas is the one holiday where food doesn’t take over the other material aspects of the holiday. The most memorable material aspects for most are the presents and the Christmas tree. Has there ever been a perfect Christmas tree? Honestly, when the room lights are turned down and the lights on the tree are on, all Christmas trees are beautiful.
And presents? Ever try to convince a child to eat breakfast before unwrapping presents? How long does that perfect gift wrapping survive? When children tear into opening those gifts on Christmas morning, how much time do they spend admiring all the effort put into the perfect wrapping?
But have there ever been more peaceful moments in one’s life than right after Thanksgiving dinner or right after the presents are all unwrapped? Those moments have always been the perfect ones for me.
I’m not denigrating the amount of time, effort and money that goes into any holiday celebration — it’s certainly a substantial effort. It’s that attitude of “winning” rather than enjoying that’s got me going.
It’s only someone with only an “adulting” mindset that worries about “winning” either Thanksgiving or Christmas. Those with “childlike” mindsets enjoy those moments — no matter how imperfect they are.
The key there is balance. We do have to worry about preparing the meal or putting up the tree or buying and wrapping those presents enough to accomplish those tasks — that’s so undeniable as to be common-sense.
However, we must strive to be childlike enough to appreciate the moment, to let our minds wander to the true meanings of holidays, the theological meanings of our material traditions.
Every year, there’s that moment when the theological and material meet that balances me between the adult world and the childlike world.
David Murdock is an English instructor at Gadsden State Community College. He can be contacted at email@example.com. The opinions reflected are his own.
This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: David Murdock looks at the holiday mindset