Weekly Edgework #28 - Jan. 10, 2005

Holiday Greetings Revisited

We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. May all your dreams and wishes for the New Year come true (As heard on radio shortly before Christmas, 2004).

After hearing many season’s greetings in the weeks leading up to Christmas this past year, this one leaped out at me. I sensed for a moment a profound disconnect between this greeting and the way life really happens.

Certainly the greeting as it stands is a positive and optimistic statement. Doesn’t the world need a dose of gaiety and good will at least once a year? And doesn’t the merriment of the Christmas season bring out the best in people? They give gifts to one another, make extra donations to charities, and pass on a little Christmas cheer to persons they would otherwise not talk to. So why the disconnect for me? What’s wrong with being merry? Certainly that is better than being sad, isn’t it?

Perhaps my unease with the “Merry Christmas” greeting rests first of all in its generic quality. The wish that you be merry at Christmas time is thrown out like confetti at a wedding. It is the same wish for everyone - young or old, healthy or sick, strong or weak. Seldom is the one wishing you a Merry Christmas interested in your life situation, or what might be the forces that work against merriment in your context. The woman who just lost her husband gets the same “Merry Christmas” as the young couple for whom everything seems to be falling into place. The terminally ill patient gets the same merry wish as the healthy teenager. And, especially when the greeting comes from a business establishment to you and your family, there is a hollow, even manipulative ring to the greeting. At least I find myself asking whether they really care all that much what kind of a Christmas I have.

Would we not be better off coming up with less generic greetings to pass on to people? Greetings that take a person’s life situation into account? Being less of a Santa Claus dropping confetti over the entire world, and more of a personal emissary of grace, crafting a greeting that is just right for each person. A major impediment, of course, to this innovation would be the fact that such crafting requires careful thought and taking the time to know something about the person you greet. How much easier to buy a hundred generic Christmas cards, sign your name in each and send them off. Frankly, I seldom read the little ditty on the inside of such cards. It is usually too pithy to make a difference anyway. On the other hand, if a personal note is attached I read it with great eagerness.

The fact is that in spite of the generic Merry Christmas greetings falling around us like snowflakes, for many Christmas remains the loneliest, saddest and most difficult time of the year. Largely, it seems to me, due to the expectation that merriment should be the norm at this time of the year, when there is little in their life situations that is capable of inducing merriment. A superficial greeting with everyone putting on plastic grins of delight does little to subdue the pain for those who, for whatever reason, can not join the merry fling we call Christmas. I am challenged to work a little harder at making my Christmas greetings in 2005 more personal and meaningful.

Perhaps I would not have taken note of the greeting I referred to above if it had not included the New Year’s wish for me. A generic Christmas greeting is much less troublesome to me than a New Year’s wish that my every dream and wish come true in the coming year. Can you imagine a world in which this actually would happen? Everything would fall into place like clockwork. Nothing would enter your life that would bring with it a set back, a bend in the road, or the death of a dream.

I am aware that this is the stuff of which the great American dream is constructed. And it is pleasant indeed to live for a few moments in a fantasy world in which all our dreams come true. Children are good at living in fantasy worlds, but part of the process of growing up is to come to the realization that fantasy inevitably must give way to reality. When adults refuse to leave the fantasy world of children we send them for psychiatric assessments, and rightly so. Then why don’t we send some of those who want our every dream fulfilled to the same office?

Only a little reflection on the way life works brings us to the conclusion that children getting all their dreams and wishes fulfilled end up spoiled for anything useful in their adult lives. It is the same for adults. Those who get what they want, when they want it, every time, are more of a liability than an asset in the world of reality. They become self-centered, doing whatever it takes to keep themselves on the trajectory of their own dream fulfillment. Unless, of course, by some act of grace they are able to turn the fulfillment of their dreams into a foundation for selfless service.

We all know that bad things happen even to good people. At the time of this writing I am trying to comprehend the scale of destruction and suffering caused by the earthquake in Asia between Christmas and New Years. It almost seems profane to wish one another that all our dreams come true in the fairy tale cocoons of our existence while millions upon millions can’t even begin to dream in the midst of the mayhem in which they live.

Most serious thinkers and writers in the area of personal growth and spirituality agree on one thing. And that is that unless we face difficulties and unexpected challenges we will not grow as persons. Would a better New Year’s greeting not be to wish our friends the grace and strength to face whatever challenges might come their way in the new year? And that through those experiences they grow as persons, both emotionally and spiritually?

I plan to be a little more thoughtful in my Christmas and New Year’s greetings in 2005? What about you?

“Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”