Lacking the true meaning

By Bethany Reinhart

Inspired by a question posed by one of my co-workers, I set out last week to write a column filled with reasons why I love the holiday season. After a discussion about why she’s a scrooge, my co-worker asked what the holidays mean to me. For a person with rather candid opinions who usually doesn’t shy away from a debate, I found myself momentarily speechless. What do the holidays mean to me?

Images embedded in my brain for years suddenly flooded my mind. Christmas Eve Mass, traditional breakfast with my family, peppermint hot chocolate, wrapping the family cat in tissue paper, counting the presents that Santa brought me and so on. Surely with all of the thoughts running through my head I should easily be able to fill a column with the reasons why I love the holidays and exactly what they mean to me.

However, as I sat down and started to type, the thoughts didn’t flow nearly as freely as they should have. In fact, I struggled to string together a single convincing paragraph about how wonderful the holidays are. Sure, I could regurgitate what the holiday should be.  But the problem is that what they should be and what they are in America are two very different scenarios. In the end, I concluded that I actually don’t like the holiday season in America at all. Although I don’t consider myself to be a scrooge, I do think that Christmas in America has become a false representation of the true meaning of the holidays.

The realization hit me rather hard. For years I have faked my love for Christmas. I have pretended to be too busy to put up a tree or too tired to go out shopping—but surely I love Christmas, I would tell myself, I’m just not in the spirit yet.

But here is the cold, hard truth. I hate what the holiday season has become in America. Instead of bickering about who’s going to host the holidays, what kind of cookies we are going to bake, how early we have to leave to make it to Christmas Eve Mass on time or where we should go to look at the best holiday lights, I would rather put my energy toward a more worthy cause.  Not to say that my family isn’t worthy—they are, more so than any family I know. But I think a more worthy cause would be an orphan in Uganda who doesn’t know what Christmas is, but would probably love some clean water or to have someone splurge on a gift like a toothbrush.

I would love to see what would happen if for just one week we took all of the money it costs to light Christmas lights across the country and instead used that money to heat classrooms in Ukraine, provide educational materials to impoverished children in the Philippines or purchase medical supplies for people dying of AIDS in South Africa.

If we stepped back and thought a bit more about what the holidays should mean instead of what they have come to mean, maybe we could eventually get ourselves back on the right track.

Until then, the best Christmas gift I could ask for is a plane ticket to Uganda, where I could teach a child to read, to comb their hair and to brush their teeth. On a holiday that is supposed to be all about giving, maybe I could find a way to give something that is a bit less Hallmark and a lot more everlasting.