--Socrates, Greek philosopher
And so the holidays, the holy days, Christmas days, Hanukkah evenings, Kwanzaa, the whole season, operation Santa Claus has begun, now 'til January 1, 2018. But first a story....
There once was a man who served a delicious ham for his family every Christmas Day dinner. But before he’d cook that roast, he always unwrapped it, cut it exactly in half, then placed those two pieces in two pans in the oven. One year his wife asked, “Hon...why two pieces? Why not just cook it whole.” The husband said, “You know...I’m not really sure—that’s just how my Mom always did it, so that's what I do.” So he called his mother and asked, “Why do you cut the Christmas ham in two before you cook it?” and she replied, “Actually I have no idea. That’s just how Grandma did it so that’s how I do it--you might ask her.” And so he phoned his grandmother. “Nana; why do you always cook the ham in two pans for Christmas? Is it a secret family recipe? Does it make it taste better? Is there some religious significance to it?” She laughed. “No!! One Christmas many years ago I bought a ham that was too big for one pan so I just cut it in half and put it in two small pans. You aren’t still cooking it that way, are you!?”
Funny how we humans so often forget to ask "Why?" when it comes to this life. As in: "Why am I still doing 'it' this way?" Funny how we can so easily continue to just do, what we do, because, well, that's what we've always done, and so, that is what we will still do. Like the holidays. So we "do" Christmas this way or that way because...well...wait. When is the last time you or I really thought about this seemingly obvious but rarely if ever asked question?
Why do we "do" the holidays?
Why all the shopping and cooking and buying and partying and overeating and traveling and listing and worrying and singing and praying and hoping and believing and consuming and charging and mailing and decorating and baking and cleaning and finally collapsing?!
Is it about all the stuff? The purchasing and giving and receiving of things, material items, goods and services? I wonder. That does seem to be a huge focus of these holidays. By the end of December, Americans will spend on average $967.13, collectively $682 billion, for holiday purchases in 2017. Connect that whopping figure to the flood of advertising in the media and packed mall parking lots and it would be easy to conclude that we do holidays mainly to get and to give. Maybe that's why.
Is it all about the things to do, the crush of the calendar? The office parties and the neighborhood shindigs and Yankee Swaps and the holiday lunches and brunches, the way our schedules fill to overflowing at years' end? I wonder. I know I am busier in December than in any other month, with both work and play and family. It is a lot of fun to see old friends and party, but boy, there is so, so much to get to and to do. I never have enough time to do it all. Holidays are always about hurrying. Maybe that's why.
Or is it about something deeper somehow? Something primordial, spiritual, even mystical? I wonder. As the light fades and we enter into the darkest time of the year in this part of the world, and the air chills, there stirs within us a desire for something beyond ourselves to break forth in Creation. To bring us hope. To embody a dream of peace on earth and goodwill to all people. To move us to reunite with loved ones, even reconcile with those we have been lost to or from. To give not just to those who have much but also to those who have little. To return to a faith tradition. Holidays then become holy days. Maybe that's why.
Why the holidays?
Only you can ask and answer that query if you choose to do so. Only you can encourage your loved ones to ponder that mystery. The holiday extravaganza and machine just keeps on rolling on: of that we can be absolutely sure. So go ahead. I dare you. Ask, "Why?" The answer you seek and find may be the best gift you receive this December.