Almost every holiday has the family as its focus, as far as advertising and tradition are concerned. No matter how detached we become from the family construct, we are called back to it in reflection during the holidays, if anything than because every other commercial or magazine ad advises that we should. It doesn’t matter if it’s the religious or secular emphasis you place on Christmas; the end product is sought the same way. Even if you don’t believe in God, or that Christmas is a poorly placed holiday in memory of some holy birth, it still means something, even if that is just another excuse to buy people gifts.

We are often taught that this season is one of putting aside problems and uniting under a common bond of holiday spirit. It’s about renewing old or frayed connections with people. It’s about coping with regret or loneliness. It’s about sacrificing for someone else, charity, donating to the common good, making other people feel good. It can also be about getting everything you asked for or things you didn’t think you needed to begin with. If we are torn, we are torn in our idea of what Christmas means, based on what we believe is true, what we want to think is true but doubt most highly, and what we would prefer it to be. From every walk of life, it seems, Christmas means family. Whether you’re avoiding yours, or ignoring it, or tolerating it, you’re an agent in it, whether by your involvement or disinterest. Your biggest moment in the spotlight can be when you simply don’t show up.

When you don’t have a family of your own (as I am often reminded by my parents) or don’t have a big family of which you are a member, very little is expected of you. You are the one others fawn over because you don’t have anyone else and are seen as lacking somehow. You are only expected to show up, to come home, and when you don’t even do that, most of what Christmas means can escape you. Because we are humans who I believe are granted free will, holidays need only mean to us what we allow, since there are no laws in America that force us to make a decision on the matter. It can mean different things each year, or nothing at all every year.

So this is what I would say. The meaning of Christmas is to remember the vulnerability of human nature to its environment. It means to pit yourself against whatever traditions you were raised with and what you’ve picked up along the way and make it your own. It forces upon us the unanswered questions of our origin and how we feel about those we came from. It allows us to see people we seldom see anymore. It shows us that no matter how modern we want to be, we will always return to some point of origin long since planted with our roots. It is maintaining a timeline, whether by rejection or acceptance. It also reminds us how easily we feel shut off from the world when it turns to its own families and affairs and perhaps leaves you out. It is the chance to be reinvented or to resort to what is familiar, the concentration of human essence.

I wish I could say that it means more, but even for me, Christmas is a time of remembering something that didn’t even happen during this time of the year, so it makes it hard to get up in arms about it. So I turn my focus to people and how this season affects them in their varying walks of life. It is hard to care when the parking lots in the malls are overcrowded and people push and shove at one another, making a mockery of this season with forecasted spending that corporations have been projecting for months. So I try to put all that aside too, and I’ve found that there is little left except for people, just regular everyday people.

On Christmas weekend, I’ll be alone in my apartment, likely drinking, noding, and watching a lot of movies. On Christmas day, I’ll be calling the people I love who I could not see this year. And on Tuesday I go back to work and the suburban world, I hope, will go back to normal, so that I can begin loving it again. That is enough for Christmas this year, and I doubt I will have missed a thing.

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