Christmas hasn’t been a favorite holiday of mine since I was a child. It feels claustrophobic and excessive and so, so impossibly gaudy and red. But the pocket of time between 25th to the 1st has always been hallowed for me. I treat it with seriousness and give myself wholly to reflection: on the Nativity; on the subsequent Massacre of the Innocents; on those who go hungry; on the children who have to square their shoulders, lift their chins, puff their chests, and let their eyes become stones, when they awake on Christmas morn to the same bleak cots in a shelter, to the same loss or absence that claimed a parent near some Christmas past; to the same dearth of gifts or of cheer.
Joy does not always come easily to the world these days. And despite our best efforts to tinsel over everything that ails us and others, there are many who cannot forget their struggles through caroling or office holiday parties or heavily spiked punch and nog.
What is so heartening is how vigorously we try. Every year, we volunteer; purchase that extra unwrapped toy to take to the nearest giveaway station; write checks for international causes; give bonuses to civil servants; reconcile with estranged loved ones; make peace with our long-feuding neighbors; light candles and place them in our windows, as if to alert to all who pass by: Cheer is welcome here. Hope is present here.
If you read this blog often, you know well that I am big proponent of hope. And the last week of a year seems to be when mankind is most open to it. We have suspended our cynicism, in preparation for the swell of possibility every countdown to a new year provides. And suddenly, the world’s ills seem solvable. Galvanization seems sustainable. True love seems well within our grasp. And every dream in default is made current.
The New Year is the Great Equalizer. Even for those for whom the holidays feel unbearable, there is a great sense of relief at their coming and going. It means that there is something we can definitively put behind us. It means there is a mystery. For all we know, this is year we will finally feel at home; we will sail the seas; we will find a job; we will beat a repossession, a foreclosure, an eviction; we will graduate; we will marry.
This is the year that will satisfy some large and persistent longing.
For me, the end of the year is about eradicating regret. It’s about our realization and, perhaps, our relief that we come here, to this earth, in part, to falter. It is the only thing that earns us empathy and humbleness. Whatever the next annum will bring, it will certainly include our mistakes. Often, the mistakes–more than any of the things we get right–are what carry us to the next year’s shore, altered, enlightened, matured.
And that, more than lit trees, wrapped gifts, and a cheery array of confections, is worthy of the effort it may take to rejoice.