Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Don't Be Afraid To Wish Someone A Merry Christmas

First published in the December 14 issue of The Oxford Journal:

Overheard a couple of years ago while in the waiting room at the physiotherapy unit at the hospital in Amherst:
Agnes: “Do you work at the grocery store?”
Wanita smiled and nodded.
Agnes: “I think you did my postage the other day.”
Wanita: “I’m surprised I’m not dreaming about letters chasing me.”
Agnes: “It’s hard to believe it’s only ten days until Christmas.”
Wanita: “I’ll be glad when it’s over. It’s so busy. And there isn’t much cheer.”
Agnes: “Really?”
Wanita: “I find that no one says Merry Christmas anymore.”
That was in 2009. I wonder how Wanita is finding the cheer leading up to Christmas this year.  For those of us still daring to use the phrase, “Merry Christmas”, are we all too worried about money and too rushed by daily obligations to feel merry, let alone wish someone else good cheer? We’ve allowed the pressures of the perfect gifts to usurp the joy and peace that should be the hallmarks of this season. 
Uncertainty, even chaos, in finance and business is just a scaled-up version of what most of us are feeling in our personal households. As power rates go up, gas prices stay high, and the cost of food creeps up, anyone hanging on for the next pay cheque will find the holiday season stretching resources as thin as cellophane, tied up with a generous dose of guilt and anxiety.
In this context, how do we muster up enough cheer to wish Wanita, and each other, a Merry Christmas...and really mean it? You think I’m going to say ‘spend less’ but that’s the obvious answer. Instead, try ‘slow down’. The new hallmarks of the holiday season are waiting, rushing, and fretting. Imagine giving, or receiving, a dose of kindness on a day when you really don’t feel like shopping, let alone saying Merry Christmas. My colleague Jane recently let a man go ahead of her in a line at a store, explaining that at this time of year, there is no point in being in a hurry. 
“It doesn’t take a large gesture to ease the stress in someone else’s day,” Jane told me. 
We all feel pressured to shop and give till it hurts, but we can’t lose sight of the only thing that makes Christmas worthwhile: the point of all those gifts. They are an act of appreciation, and the ultimate gesture of kindness. Just like saying “Merry Christmas” to Wanita and each other...and meaning it.  

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