How do we put it all together at this time every year?
Christmas. That is what I am thinking about.
We are used to it of course. It almost seems natural. But it is not. We have just done it this way forever. We are on autopilot — usually not stopping to think about whether the things we do are “natural” or not.
How would we respond if someone stopped us and asked us this question? “How is it that you treat this season so inconsistently that is seems almost schizophrenic?”
We wouldn’t deny it, would we? We would have to admit that we march on two different paths during this season.
One path is a frenzy of a shopping and giving and socializing. As the end of the year approaches, the dark night surrounds us, and we burst out with an explosion of activity.
We make time for parties and festivities — and somehow do the work that must be done before the end of the year. We celebrate the “harvest” of a year’s efforts. We send out signals of appreciation and give, give, give to our friends.
We eat drink and be merry.
Switching on every light that we can find, we beat back the darkness, turn it around, and shout out our success.
Some of us can remember when it was more difficult — not like today when most of us can afford to spend much more on gifts and parties than our parents could. Maybe that remembrance of former limits fuels our efforts to out do one another.
For weeks my house was full of wrapping paper and packages, thanks to my wife’s early efforts to organize and make the season happy.
And in the corner of the living room, a friend placed our first present — a beautiful Christmas tree. It was selected, mounted, and set up. My wife says it is the best present we have ever had. She didn’t have to go to the lot, try to pick out the right size and shape, haul it back home, and try a thousand times to put it up straight. The whole task has been done for us.
Somewhere in the background there was a little whisper from the past. “You have taken this too far. Next year, like you did growing up, go out in the country and select a tree from some willing farmer’s land. Cut it down. Bring it home. Put it up.”
Not for us. Not this year.
All this is part of our first path of Christmas, and all the while we are trying to walk the second path — at the same time.
In the midst of all this celebration, we try to remember the birth of Jesus and the beginning of era of deep religious significance. We try to do it with reverence. We try to make the season holy, silent, and dignified.
One path of frenzied celebration.
Another path of religious dignity.
They are so totally opposed. We struggle to hold them together.
The Christmas story of Jesus’ birth and Santa Claus.
The absence of material things and their overabundance.
The humble stable and our lavish decorations.
From choir practice to the office party.
How do we bring them all together in this season?
Somehow we do it.
Maybe we get by this season because we practice this inconsistent exercise all year long. Maybe we are always trying to balance the inconsistent pathways of the material and the spiritual—never quite able to separate them or find some way to harmonize them.
Maybe we make it through Christmas season the same way we do all year long.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch. A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.
The Dec. 28 and 30 guest is Kevin Duffus author of “War Zone—World War II off the North Carolina Coast.”
Bookwatch Classics (programs from earlier years) airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4).
Wednesday’s (January 2) past guest program features Lee Smith author of “The Last Girls.”