The Holiday Wars

The Holiday Wars

Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto,
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Let’s face it, when this time of year rolls around, some people just want to run and hide. Already, the Christmas carols are playing, and the Christmas trees have been on display since September. If your kid is in public school, it’s been all about Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. Which is awesome if you celebrate those days. And if you don’t, well… it’s pretty annoying.

Yes, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday that’s been made into a bigger event because of its proximity to Christmas. But at least it’s acknowledged. Unlike, say, Yom Kippur. And of course, pretty much every holiday on the Christian calendar owes its very existence to a pagan precursor. Easter remembers the goddess Eostra and, of course, the ritual sacrifice of the King of the Year, eerily echoed by the crucifixion of Christ. Samhain and Yule were Christianized as well during the process of converting the many European pagans, who did not want to lose their festivals and traditions.

So it’s fair to say that many of our modern holidays are muddy, at best, in terms of their origins. Am I celebrating Christmas or Saturnalia? The answer, for us, is yes. Do we celebrate Hanukkah? The answer, for us, is yes, because one of our family members is Jewish. Do we celebrate Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Litha (midsummer’s eve)? For us, the answer is yes, because we take the view that any day is a day worth celebrating. The pagan understanding of the Divine presence in the natural world and its cycles makes sense to us. Celebrating the life of a master (be it Christ, Buddha, or any other) also makes sense to us. Celebrating Jonathan’s Jewish heritage makes sense to us. There is beauty in all of these. And I have no doubt that if we were introduced to Diwali, Eid al-Adha, or the Chinese New Year, that we would find joy in all of them.

Given our perspective that every holiday is a good holiday, I don’t understand why so many have chosen to be offended by someone else’s holiday. I understand that the nondominant religions are rightfully irritated by the overwhelming presence of the dominant religion (Christianity) in the U.S., and let’s face it, we all know that this push is really about making money in retail sales. Acknowledged! And these holidays are overwhelmingly pushed in public schools, and Wiccan/Jewish/Muslim kids may or may not like to create construction-paper reindeer. Acknowledged! Public schools could do a better job of acknowledging minority religious practices. At all. Ever… But when they do…

There was a stink a few years ago in Texas because some textbooks didn’t discuss Christmas, but they did discuss Diwali, which is the major festival in India. Christians were outraged. I think it’s probably fair to say that most Texas kids don’t need further instruction in Christmas, but most have probably never heard of Diwali, so exposing them to it is a really good idea. I have worked with teams in India, and trust me, in a global economy, this sort of thing is good to know. But of course, the “War on Christmas” folks had a field day with this, and bemoaned the “attack” on their beloved holiday.

So here’s my point:  isn’t this all getting a bit silly? I don’t really care if someone says, “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Blessed Yule,” “Happy Kwanzaa,” or even (gasp) “Happy Holidays!” My own holiday preferences don’t need to be validated at every turn. What I do in my house is my business, and if 50,000 Christians salute me with a “Merry Christmas,” then so what? I am not offended by pagan posts in my Facebook newsfeed any more than I am by pro-Jesus posts or even pro-atheist posts. There is no conflict here, unless I create one. Someone else’s beliefs can never negate what I own in my heart, so why should I care?

As it happens, I can scroll by. I have that power.

When I play “The Holly and the Ivy,” I remember the Druids who gave rise to the tradition of Christmas trees, holly, and mistletoe. When I play “The Coventry Carol” or other songs, I think of a lonely couple in the desert, giving birth to their first child. And when I hear Jonathan sing a Hebrew prayer, I think of the thousands of years that prayer has been sung about a miracle of oil.

The Holiday Wars are just another way of creating separation where there is none. We are all One, no matter what we celebrate or revere or think is important. Why would someone else’s joyful celebration be an annoyance to me? Celebrate! Live! Love! Drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And let’s stop looking for ways to divide what can never be divided. It’s all an illusion…

Happy holidays!

By Asha Hawkesworth

The Perfect Gift

The Perfect GiftYou know that when you say something definitively that the Universe is going to smack you around. So, in my last blog when I said:

No one looks back on their life and thinks fondly of what they received for their 25th Christmas.

The Universe clearly had something to say to me, along the lines of, “We shall see about that!”

There are toxic gifts, and there are toxic gift-givers. We deal with them and move on. But there are also people who give from the heart, without reservation, and they know where we live. And their gifts reflect this understanding.

So, let me state now that on my death bed, I probably will remember my (early) Christmas gift, which I received in my 44th year, literally the day after I wrote the previous blog. It was my equivalent of Ralphie’s Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. It was something I had wanted and missed for at least 20 years.

On the day I received it, my beloved requested my assistance to move an object in a rented U-Haul van that was a “gift for the family.” He wouldn’t say more. I rode with him in the pouring rain to the far side of town, where we found the house of a middle-aged couple who was moving further south. And there, in their packed-up living room, was a lovely spinnet piano. “There’s your piano,” he said.

A piano of my own! I had wanted one my entire adult life. I will never be a world-class pianist, but I love to play. Making music for myself is a calming, meditative thing. I like to challenge myself to play that piece a little better than I did before. I like to be with the melody and just make myself happy. And now, after two decades, I could do it again. I had received a long-lost piece of myself, which I had mourned and missed. It was a gift of pure love and pure understanding, one that said, “I see you.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

The children are naturally drawn to the piano; I hope they want lessons. I’m trying to encourage them in that direction. I can’t play for long without having a cat perched on top of the piano. They love it, too.

The best gifts don’t really have a price tag. How do you put a price on the joy of music? But I know I am loved when I received the perfect gift—the gift that gave me back my music. So, yes, I’ll remember this gift always, but more importantly, I’ll remember the love that inspired it. I couldn’t be more blessed.

When Gift-Giving is Toxic

Gift that feels badAs we skid headlong into “that time of year,” when giving gifts is more of an obligation than anything else, I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the toxic aspect of gift-giving, and how it negatively impacts a relationship.

To be clear, I just want to state that there is nothing inherently wrong with giving or receiving gifts. If you are giving from your heart, out of the pure desire to give to another, then God bless you. Please do so. That is what giving gifts should look like:  given from the heart, without any attachment or expectation bound up with it. In a way, that is sort of the function of Santa Claus, and perhaps his appeal, as well. The gifts are freely and miraculously given, and the jolly old elf doesn’t even expect (nor does he get) a thank you in return. According to the legend we have created, Santa does it for the pure joy of giving, and nothing else. No wonder he is so well loved.

But then there are the other kinds of gifts, the kind of gift that feels bad, the kind that aren’t really gifts at all, and some of them are, quite frankly, massive burdens. You know what I’m talking about. They are passive aggression wrapped in bows, hateful commentary provided “because they love you,” or an imposition of someone else’s preferences for you. Or, maybe it’s just a lavish opportunity to “outdo” you with all the money “they” have. Whatever the reason, the end result is that the gift makes you feel bad. And that is toxic.

No matter what dynamic is occurring in the push-me/pull-you of the relationship, it is important to understand that it is probably largely unconscious on the part of the giver (or the receiver, which I’ll get to in a minute). The person who gives hurtful gifts probably didn’t do any plotting with the ultimate goal of hurting you; unconsciously, they are just trying to “win” a power struggle that has been going on between you, and “gifts” are a perfect weapon.

If a person gives you a gift that has an expectation attached, then it is a toxic gift. For example, giving you a gift membership to a gym that you don’t want and have no intention of using is toxic. This “gift” may keep on giving when the expectation that you go to the gym and work out regularly becomes a frequent topic of conversation. The gift-giver feels, because they spent money on you, that they are entitled to badger you about a choice they wish you would make. As a result, you may feel bad about yourself, and you may (rightfully) resent this person’s intrusion into your life and personal decisions. Gifts of this nature may require extreme boundary setting on your part. And if gifts like this regularly come from the same person, it is entirely within your right to start refusing them—kindly, if possible.

Some gifts, like in the previous example, may be calculated to hit you where it hurts. People who have personality disorders, or traits of disorders, often use gifts to try to control other people. In the gym example, the gift-giver may think, “She’s too fat. She needs to exercise more.” This may or may not be true, but if the person believes it to be true, then their “gift” is actually an attempt to make you do what they want you to do.

My mother was a classic toxic gift-giver. One year, she bought me a set of cutlery, but apparently she made the mistake of letting me choose my own style—which she didn’t like. The next year, I received a set of dishes that she had chosen—and which I didn’t like. The greatest Battle of the Gifts was waged with her mother-in-law, however. My mother found many things to dislike in my grandmother’s home, and her method of dealing with it was to give my grandmother something new to replace her old things. For example, cutlery. One year, my mother gave my grandmother a new set to replace “her old, ugly set.” My grandmother was wily and passive-aggressive herself, and that set of cutlery quickly disappeared into a black hole, never to be seen again, but her “old, ugly set” continued to appear at the dinner table. My mother complained bitterly about this on a regular basis and actually had the chutzpah to ask my grandma to give back the set if she wasn’t going to use it.

Of course, gift-giving is a two-way street, and the motives of the gift-giver may be quite pure and innocent—until the receiver gets hold of it. I read a column in Ask Amy once that described a daughter-in-law who dutifully attempted to buy a gift for her mother-in-law each Christmas. One year, the mother-in-law began to give the woman a “do not buy” list, so the daughter-in-law took care to avoid the items on the list. The next Christmas, however, her gift from the previous year appeared on her mother-in-law’s “do not buy” list. This is textbook passive-aggressive behavior, and you can’t win that war.

I had a rough time buying gifts for my mother as an adult. I tried buying her clothing (she loves clothes). But they “didn’t fit right,” “were scratchy,” the “wrong color,” or a bad choice in some other way. There was always something wrong with everything I bought her. I began to ask her what she did want, specifically. One year, she handed me a catalog and pointed out a pair of diamond earrings. Fine! Easy. I ordered them; I wrapped them; she opened them—and promptly found a “flaw” in them. I heard about that “flaw” for months. And then I started giving her gift cards…

No one can control you through their gifts without your consent, of course. If you are the giver, have no—and I mean zero—expectations. Don’t expect gratitude. Don’t expect joy. If you get them, then yay! But if you don’t, know that their inability to be happy or to receive has nothing to do with you. As long as you gave from your heart, then you’re good.

Likewise, work on being a good receiver. Even if you don’t like the gift and would never choose it, a simple and heartfelt “Thank you” will suffice. Even if the gift feels thoughtless or hurtful, give the giver the benefit of the doubt. If the gift feels toxic and you have previous experience of toxic gifts from this person, then you can be gracious and set your boundaries at the same time. If the relationship is valuable to you, it may be time for a heartfelt discussion.

But really, when it comes down to it, the most important gifts in the world are the gifts of Love, Time, and Presence. They don’t need gift-wrap, and they never go out of style. No one looks back on their life and thinks fondly of what they received for their 25th Christmas. But people do look back on their lives and remember the good times spent with loved ones, the times that people shared together, the times that loved ones were engaged and present with them.

I’ll leave you with Fab Wisdom…

I may not have a lot to give
But what I got I’ll give to you
I said, I don’t care too much for money
‘Cause money can’t buy me love