Thursday, December 8, 2016

We Need a New 12 Days of Christmas

(From the December 8, 2016 edition of the Grand Haven Tribune)

Lords a leapin’! After today there are only a few more shopping days until Christmas. That probably makes some people excited, and others panic. It makes me wonder.
What exactly is a “shopping day” versus any other day anyway? Well, there’s no difference of course. But the term was injected into our vocabulary and culture by retail marketers who have successfully equated this holiday with an annual buying binge. You see it in the advertisements, coming earlier every year. And the news media carry the theme by interviewing business owners and economists, asking for a forecast of sales this Christmas season.

So, in spite of all that we say about Christmas, that it is about peace and love and hope and joy, it really seems to be about, you know, stuff.  Buying stuff, giving stuff, getting stuff, even stuffing the turkey. Last year I saw a group of women go ga-ga over some large plastic containers. “These will be great for storing stuff!” one of them exclaimed. A friend of mine, a builder, pointed out that the average size house of 50 years ago is about the size of an average garage today. Garages are bigger because families typically have more than one vehicle, and lots of stuff that go with them. Meanwhile, a big selling point for a home these days is a basement storage room--extra room for extra stuff. Even with that, “Storage” merits its own category in the yellow pages. There are doezens pages of “u-store-it” type businesses in our area ready to help people who have too much stuff.

When you really think about this, our habit of accumulating things seems as ridiculous as that perennial song “The 12 Days of Christmas.” I mean, the person who wrote this annoying ballad must have been the person who had everything. Why else would his true love give him such impractical crap? Seriously. Other than the thoughtful yet extravagant gift of jewelry on the fifth day, the poor sucker kept getting birds for seven days. It started with a simple partridge and got quickly out of hand, culminating in seven swans a swimming by day seven. By my count, in a week’s time he was stuck with 23 birds including the aforementioned as well as a variety of turtle doves, geese, and french hens. The guy probably had to hock the five golden rings just to afford the bird food. Now, eight maids a milking would have been useful if he had been given cows, but no, they were excessive as well. With all that fowl it’s no wonder the 10 lords were leaping, obvously trying to avoid stepping in all that 23 birds might leave behind.

This all makes a sweater and a gift card to Home Depot seem about right.

Or better yet, maybe we could refocus the 12 days of Christmas on something other than the hectic pursuit of more stuff. Maybe it could be about rest from routine, rekindling relationships, and remembering others. Here are my suggestions for enjoying the 12 days starting tomorrow and ending the day before Christmas:

On the first day of Christmas--read a good book.

On the second day of Christmas--meet a friend you haven’t seen in a long time for a cup of coffee and a long chat.

On the third day of Christmas--play games with your spouse and kids, or a few close friends.

On the fourth day of Christmas--try to repair a strained relationship.

On the fifth day of Christmas--call (don’t email for once) a friend or family member who lives a long ways from you.

On the sixth day of Christmas--get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate at a local coffee shop and then walk downtown and enjoy the lights.

On the seventh day of Christmas--walk the pier and/or the beach to appreciate the beauty of nature in winter.

On the eighth day of Christmas--write in your journal--or start a journal with an entry--about all the good things other people did for you this past year.

On the ninth day of Christmas--visit someone who can’t get out much.

On the tenth day of Christmas--Enjoy a concert or play.

On the 11th day of Christmas-- Go to a crowded shopping center not to shop, but just to smile at the frenzied people who are.

 On the 12th day of Christmas--remember that there are people who really need stuff, including food, clothes, toys, furniture and even housing. Make a donation to local charities that are providing those things.

 Then, on Christmas Day, remember that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. Remember that this fact affects us every day, not just 12 in December. Remember that Jesus is a gift to us from the most true love we’ll ever know.

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