It would certainly be strange if the Ghost of Christmas present said to Scrooge; “Look, I was going to show you a panoply of times you missed the point, didn’t appreciate others, and allowed the true meaning of Christmas to slip through your grasping hands, however … with the Coronavirus and the size of these Dickensian houses, there’s no room to safely social distance so, you’re gonna have to take my word for it, you were a dick, straighten up and fly right and … yup, there it is, the true meaning of Christmas.” Leaving a cold and bewildered Scrooge, half-dressed on some dark side street, to put the whole thing together himself.
It sort of feels like that’s the deal we’re getting this year. But rather than having the season under-explained, we’re getting a glut of over-explanation of how, despite not being able to gather in the same room, Christmas still is, and we’re all fine so, go buy stuff and yay yule!
The thing is, The Ghost wouldn’t say that because there was no Coronavirus. If you think about it, there was no zoom; there was no internet, there were no planes, and yet, somehow, people managed to feel the season. People tended to find joy and celebrate.
Xfinity has put a lot of money and star power into a little film/commercial to assure us all that we can still celebrate and feel the holiday cheer, as elves' box smells of grandma’s cooking and essence of warm hugs. All while Steve Carell, as Santa, with trademark wonder in his voice, narrates the goodness that comes from having an Xfinity bundle and how that makes Christmas okay!
For some, Christmas just isn’t Christmas until they see Linus transform a bedraggled stick into a full and thriving Douglas fir by merely wrapping a security blanket around the base and telling the story of shepherds in the fields.
And for others, looking up into a clear night sky, alone, and imagining there are others out there, thinking and feeling the same way, is enough to feel connected to the world, connected to humanity and even without family or friends, feasts or presents, that in and of itself, that connection across the miles, is enough of a celebration.
On a frigid day close to Christmas in 1914, all along the western front, during World War I, the war to end all wars, mortar shells stopped raining down. Guns were silenced and, as it is told, from the trenches, echoing across the bleak stretch of no man’s land, the sound of voices singing Christmas carols took the place of the cries and moans of dying men. From their trenches, soldiers tentatively emerged and faced each other. For a moment, they were no longer the tools of rulers who wanted to kill each other; they were men. Men in a strange place, doing a strange thing. Slowly, they moved toward each other; they greeted, they shared candy and song. They played games with balls of string and wads of paper. They drank. They laughed. They were, for that brief moment, united. Not united against each other but united in spirit, united in loneliness, connected in the wish they could be somewhere else, doing something else. And, it seemed, for that brief time, amid that horrific war, there was and could be peace on earth.
Turn on the Hallmark channel, and you’ll be served up a 24/7 showing of genuinely terrible Christmas movies that will hammer home what is the “true meaning of Christmas.” One of them even has an oddly displaced homeless British guy in the middle of an American shelter for some unknown reason.
The truth is, you don’t need a commercial or a movie, a story of WWI, or even this blog to tell you what the true meaning of Christmas is. For one, there is no one true meaning. Christmas is whatever you want it to be. What you need it to be. And, for many of us, that changes every year.
Christmas is the hell of getting three kids, gifts, two strollers, and an incontinent dog onto a plane so you can fly 12,000 miles just to have a nasty aunt tell you that your cousin makes more money and has a prettier wife. Then you’ll swear, just as you did last year, never again.
Christmas is having your plans crashed because a snowstorm has grounded or stopped every form of transportation, so there’s a makeshift “orphans Christmas” quickly put together, and somewhere in the middle of that, you think, why don’t we do this every year?
Christmas is a phone call from a long lost friend who was thinking about you and just wanted to hear your voice.
Christmas is a quiet morning with a cup of coffee while thinking about how good it is to be calm and drink coffee with no hands-on your time.
Christmas is a thought.
Christmas is a wish.
Christmas is a thank you in the middle of an empty parking lot on a clear night to whoever runs this whole game from on high.
This Christmas, we haven’t been short changed. We aren’t being denied. We aren’t getting cheated or defeated. We don’t need reminders or reasons. We don’t need pity or kind words to get us through.
Like the storms we’ve weathered, the losses we’ve accepted, the changes we’ve rolled with, we will come out on the other side of this current challenge and be better, wiser, and richer for it.
Christmas is not ruined. Christmas is not gone. Christmas does not suck this year. Christmas is and always will be as long as one person remembers another person. As long as one heart beats in time with another. As long as some kid, on some stage, somewhere in the world says in a cloying, in a poor crippled boy voice, “God bless us, everyone.”
As long as one wish is whispered into the night sky for peace and love on this speeding, insane planet, there will always be Christmas.
We here at ThoughtLab whisper that wish for you and yours.