A couple years ago, after a several year streak of holiday grumpiness, I decided to take charge of my own Christmas experience. Once I changed my approach to the holiday I found that it worked so much better for me than my old way of relating to the season.
My former approach could best be described as a frenzied scramble to meet the desires and expectations of others (or at least my perception of them) combined with my own unrealistic notions about what the season should be. You may even be familiar with the old routine — the frantic shopping for the “perfect gift” while simultaneously complaining about the commercialism and crowds of Christmas; the furtive listening to news
reports of people being trampled on Black Friday with a secret little twinge of schadenfreude; the excessive spending of money on gadgets and gifts too quickly forgotten; the overabundance of food, family, and friends at near-toxic levels.
Mixing and mingling with that off-note jingling was the most stressful time of the year in the life of an academic: the semester’s end. By December, college students are as high strung as the lights at the Rockefeller Center’s annual Christmas display. They come to your office shedding tears about their grades and their grandmothers — or worse, they sit and cry silently without telling you why at all. In class they band together and plead for another extra credit assignment, in spite of the fact you’ve told them repeatedly there will not be extra credit this semester. If you stick to your word and practice “tough love” you get creamed on student evaluations. You are an ogre and a curmudgeon and administration frowns. If you have a kind heart, extra credit makes double the work for you as you scramble to invent something for students to do at the last minute that is educational and relevant…and then scramble to grade it along with the mountain of grading you have for final projects and exams before the grades are due. After all that you’re still just as likely to get creamed on student evaluations.
It wasn’t exactly what I would call the most wonderful time of the year and definitely not the happiest season of all. Obviously, things needed to change.
So, I started working on me and my own inner Scrooge to align my deeper values with my behavior. This required a little soul-searching to work out exactly what my deeper values were. The process revealed a few changes I needed to make.
First off, the “perfect gift” ideal had to go. I had to break the shopping bag shackle to find more fulfilling experiences to share. This act alone opened up considerable space. Once I reduced the time spent in stores, and online shopping, I had more time and energy to think about and deal more productively with the end of the semester angst of my students. Freeing up that time also allowed me to pursue a much more relaxing pastime – knitting. The manual arts have a meditative, calming effect that work wonders on my disposition. I knitted in much-needed solitude and I knitted surrounded by knitwits and nutters (aka SoKaN), who provided a social support group, not to mention entertainment. Of course the manual arts also result in tangible and useable things – a happy byproduct.
I also came to the conclusion that I needed to give in ways that honored who I am at heart. On the gift-giving front, I admit, I have become a bit more selfish. For example, *I* wanted to take a holiday carriage ride in downtown Memphis, so I forced the parents to go with me for their “present.” But maybe Ayn Rand is right and there is virtue in selfishness. In the selfish spontaneity of this carriage ride adventure, a meaningful and memorable moment unfolded. We unintentionally wound up at the place my dad proposed to my mom and I heard this story for the first time. Of course, we are talking about Nanook the Barbarian and the Angry Russian here, so their story was couched more in terms of Archie Bunker comedy than romantic rhetoric. In fact the two did not agree upon what happened at all, which is no surprise really if you know them. Theirs was not quite a love story, but it was a story of a unique love, and a Christmas gift I’ll always treasure.
The most devastating blow to my inner Scrooge came last year when I refused to listen to media reports about Christmas mayhem in the community and decided to start expanding my own sense of community. One of my holiday highlights last year was wrapping presents at a local bookstore for contributions to Literacy Mid-South, a local nonprofit organization that helps increase the literacy rates of adult learners. There are 125,000 adults in Memphis who read below the third grade level. Literacy Mid-South and their volunteer tutors are helping reduce that number. I have served with them in the past, but time and logistics were a barrier to continued service, so I jumped at this chance to wrap presents for donations. I drug the Indentured Servant/Resident Teologist and Nanook along for the ride and it was a beautifully wonderful morning of do-gooding awesomeness spent surrounded by books! We were all up in other people’s present buying business, wrapping gifts for stranger’s grandkids, and drinking coffee. It was GREAT! Nanook told me to pick out a book for her present to me, so I scored a copy of Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, which mom wrapped so pretty that I couldn’t bear to open it on Christmas. It stayed wrapped for a whole year before the story called to unwrap it.
This year, I am all about Christmas…but that, dear readers, is a different post.
So how about you? Any stories of Christmas past – or Scrooge slapping you have to share?