All I Want for Christmas is Quiet

I absolutely despise shopping. So that, combined with my dislike of crowds, has me feeling distinctly Grinch-y at the moment. I know that I’m not alone in my feelings. A lot of people struggle with the loss of loved ones or being alone during the holidays, but the overwhelming feeling I hear and see from most people is stress. If you don’t believe me, just look around while you’re out and about and see if you agree that smiles and looks of enjoyment are in short supply. In some places, shoppers are so out of control that the police are using pepper spray to get people to stop fighting!

It’s not just the shopping that takes a toll on people though. It’s also the “to do” list that the holidays bring: decorating, attending parties and shows, baking, sending cards, creating memories, traveling to see family, etc. And, let us not forget about the special holiday look and sound. Carols are played everywhere you go; special lights and decorations litter the landscape of both residential neighborhoods and business areas. Unless you lock yourself in a closet during the entire month of December, you cannot escape it. Now, I’m not saying that some people don’t find this enjoyable or that it all should be stopped. What I am saying is that it’s too much. I would even go so far as to say that the holiday hustle and bustle has become detrimental to good mental health. When did such a joyful time of year start being solely about bright lights, loud noise and a fat man in a suit?

Although the ingredients of this holiday stew have been around for years, I think it truly started being toxic with the introduction of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze in the early 1980s. People waited in long lines and rioted in stores just so they could get their kids these dolls that, at least in my opinion, are this short of ugly (said with all due respect to the Appalachian artisans who first created them). Marketers and retailers sat up and took notice and the advent of the trendy toy for the holidays was upon us. All of a sudden, quiet reflection and joyous commemoration took a backseat to people worshipping at the altar of consumerism. In other words, Christmas (because yes, I’m talking about Christmas) got loud.

Loud noises are sometimes necessary for getting our attention (like the cry of a baby or thunder before a storm) but in general, it is the quiet things that inspire and bring us peace. It is the sound of a loved one’s breath, the murmur of cattle as they settle in for the night, the meeting of eyes across a manger, or the stillness of a star-filled sky that guides people to their destination. It is the silence that provides an opportunity for vulnerability, reflection, awe and connection. Consequently, for those for whom Christmas is a religious holiday, serenity should be an essential part of the celebration.

That doesn’t seem to be the case for most believers in the United States though. Instead, Christmas is about rush and noise and, above all, it is about buying. There are those who recognize that something is wrong with the way we currently celebrate Christmas. However, the gentle voices suggesting that it should be a time of reflection, celebration, togetherness and a giving of ourselves are drowned out by the loud ones who are upset about being greeted with “Happy holidays!” versus “Merry Christmas!” The quiet ones are talking about the lack of religiosity while the riotous folks are expressing hostility and intolerance; yet it is the loud ones who are painted as righteous. To me, this basic misinterpretation of meaning just seems like evidence that the increased volume of the season is obscuring our cultural malaise.

I don’t think people are stressed out because of too much time spent with family or because they simply dislike the holiday season. Rather, I think people are anxious because the holidays put our problems in stark relief. We currently are a nation in search. We search for jobs, knowledge, true leaders, good food, good health and good friends but, most of all, we search for meaning and purpose. When you don’t have these things, then you have a hole in your soul that you attempt desperately to fill. People try a lot of different things to fill this emptiness — flashy entertainment, rich food, being busy, alcohol, buying (all familiar holiday pursuits). But what all of them have in common is that they are just noise, tales of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Thus, all I want for Christmas is the quiet. Yes, the quiet may be scary to contemplate, but it will give us what we need to fill the gaping hole. It will provide us with the opportunity to reflect, experience wonder and find a true connection. What we need is for the holiday season to push us to focus not on what people are saying but on what they are feeling. We need for Christmas to not be about what we get for others — do you remember last year’s gifts? I didn’t think so — but about what we give of ourselves. We need to use the time off not to rush around and do stuff but instead to concentrate on just being at one with ourselves and our universe. Once we stop filling the emptiness with just noise, then maybe Christmas will be quiet once again. And that will be the real reason for the season.

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