In Search of the Holiday Spirit

I was lamenting to a friend the other night about how difficult it has been this year to get into the “holiday spirit.” Usually I enjoy preparing for Christmas.

I love baking holiday goodies and packaging them up, shopping for that “perfect” gift, throwing parties, and meeting friends for celebratory dinners. But this year it all seems too much. I’m tired, I feel rushed, and I can’t think of what to buy for anyone. And I know I’m not alone, which has left me asking what the holiday season is all about.

To begin with, did you know Scotiabank’s annual survey on holiday spending revealed that the average Canadian will spend $822 on Christmas this year? That’s $822 that could be put to paying your bills, saving for a new home, or that travel destination you’ve been dreaming of. But instead, that money is spent on buying gifts, many of which you can’t even be sure the receiver will like. And most of that $822 will probably also end up on your credit card, which you will spend the next few months paying off.

Add to this the time spent in lineups or arm-wrestling other shoppers for the last copy of the limited-edition-whatever-it-may-be that your parent/friend/spouse/child wants for Christmas. What you’ve got by the end of it is a headache, rather than that much desired “jolly” feeling. Then there’s the cooking, the preparation for company, and holiday weight-gain that’s an extra bonus right into the New Year.

So why are we so obsessed with Christmas? Few Canadians celebrate it for its religious meaning and instead, Christmas has become a materialistic, consumer driven frenzy.

But that being said, I, like most others am not ready to give up Christmas. Why? What is it that makes Christmas so solidly stuck in our hearts?

The answer came to me while I was doing some of that last minute shopping today. A salesperson in a store wished me a “Merry Christmas” just as I was turning to leave. With that one short phrase, he managed to put a smile on my face. At that moment, I thought, aha, that’s it. Christmas makes us feel like we’re a part of something.

Christmas unites us. We attend holiday events, volunteer our time to help the less fortunate, and talk to strangers in stores and on the street, all in the name of Christmas. It’s also the one time during the year that we really make time for friends and relatives. In my own family, it’s the only instance where each of us puts aside our busy schedules to devote an entire day to one another.

What makes this possible is that Christmas is the one occasion where retailers, restaurants, and other businesses almost unanimously agree shut their doors. This gives us the time to focus on friends and family, rather than spending the day running errands and trying to get things done. Instead, Christmas can be dedicated to non-essential things, like talking to each other. If it weren’t for this one day each year, we might find ourselves slipping further and further out of touch with the people who mean the most to us.

Even holiday shopping gives us the incentive to focus on the needs, interests, and desires of those closest to us. This is not something we typically have the luxury of doing, given the ultra-hectic, stress-filled, anxiety-ridden lives the majority of us find ourselves in these days.

So, in the end, Christmas gives us a little something that we can’t put a price on. And even if we think back to that $822 we will spend, surely it’s a small price to pay for the connection with friends, family, and strangers alike that comes out of the Christmas season.

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