I'm not feeling the holiday spirit. That's not to say I don't have much to celebrate this year. I'm a newlywed who proposed so awkwardly on New Year's Eve that I promised my wife I'd try it again every year until I get it right, and this year marks my first replay. I'm also a proud stepfather of two young girls.
Still, I'm confronted by the hypocrisies of the season and I believe I'm losing what little faith I had in humanity.
We are liars, plain and simple. We tell our children bold-faced lies without reason — unless you count greed as an acceptable reason — but even then it's not our own pockets that we're stuffing but corporate coffers. I suppose that makes us stupid, too.
We have fashioned a cultural myth out of a fat guy with the white beard and the red suit, the flying reindeer games and the binge shopping that begins at the stroke of midnight on the day after Thanksgiving as a celebration. But what are we celebrating?
When I was a kid, my mother and grandmother couldn't afford to buy into all the Santa stuff, and I don't remember many of my friends running around talking about what they got from Santa either. Could be the lack of chimneys in the projects, or maybe even a mythic white guy knew it wasn't safe to leave his ride unattended up on our roof.
No matter, though, because the holidays were all about family anyway. We got each other presents, although it wasn't about extravagance.
We bought what was needed, and we gladly accepted what we got. I wasn't very good at keeping secrets, so the unwrapping was a mere formality, but it was still joyous.
And then there was the big dinner that had been in the works for days. Three cakes, lots of pies and, of course, the big bird with all the trimmings that fed two tables of folks — the main adult setting and the folding table for the kids. To this day, when we gather somebody recounts some memory of the sweetest treats or an embarrassing pants-splitting incident.
Church and faith, in the form of Nativity plays and midnight Mass, were incorporated into the festivities as I got older. I served on the altar many a midnight clear, and it re-reinforced why giving and giving thanks was so important. It was about celebrating the birth of a child, not the release of the latest game system or Ken and Barbie in the manger.
Eventually Kwanzaa offered another example of giving and another cause for real celebration. Kwanzaa is the time when a community comes together for seven days to share its fruits of the harvest. Each day has a theme or guiding principle on which to reflect.
There are no cute songs, nor is there a need for make-believe, although Kwanzaa is considered the black sheep of the holiday season because it's a recent addition. It's a made-up event, some say, and it is, but it speaks to the truth of giving and sharing in ways that Santa and his bounty of presents cannot.
Thanks to my wife and the girls, Hanukkah traditions will extend the holiday for me. And I welcome celebrating the cultural reminder of the Festival of Lights by lighting the menorah to commemorate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the miracle of the oil that was supposed to last only one night but burned for eight days.
I already knew how the dreidel game served as a ruse to throw off the guards who were on the lookout for Jews practicing their outlawed religion, but it means more because it's now part of me and my family.
You see, these traditions are what we should be sharing with our children during the holidays. These black celebrations — and by "black" I mean reminders of something other than the good old American white lies and greenbacks that fuel our conspicuous consumption — are more in line with the Christmas spirit than all of the decorated trees and perfectly wrapped presents from Santa and his elves in the Great White North.
Yet I fear that it won't be long before we (America) find the lowest common denominator in them and strip them bare. This is seemingly another part of our nation's manifest destiny.
I've spent the last three weeks listening to requests for toys and clothes that have gone on lists for Christmas and Hanukkah, fielding phone calls from the North Pole — did you know that somewhere out there someone has a service to place calls that are identified on caller ID as being from the North Pole? I didn't, and somehow that freaks me out even more — and wandering around feeling like Scrooge every time I remind my wife that what passes for Christmas isn't really connected to the Christian celebration of the season.
I understand how someone could be confused by it all, but what I don't get is why we do it anyway. I'm not calling for everyone to celebrate the birth of Christ, but I would like to offer the rather blasphemous observation that maybe it's time to lay this false religion of ours to rest. That's what it is.
There is more than enough that is good and worthy of our attention and our children's respect. Maybe we all should take the time to learn more about Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Ramadan and other traditional celebrations around the world.
Learn the truth and stop spreading the white lies. Now that's the spirit!
CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: letters(at)citybeat.com. His column appears here in the third issue of each month.