It is Saturday morning. The majority of Midtown Harrisburg is still, the result of those relishing the laziness of a day off combined with the scattered few still recovering from HMAC hangovers. And a marching band begins to play.
I open the door, and behind me Liz comes bounding down the stairs. “Is that a real band?” she asks, and we grab our coats and go outside to investigate. Sure enough, there is a cluster of musicians on the corner of Green and Muench, decked in bows and bells and Christmas tree hats, and playing Christmas songs.
“I wish I brought my phone!” I say, thinking of the photo op presented to us; but Liz shakes her head.
“No, Sam!” she says. “Live in the moment!”
Wise words, Liz. In the last remaining week before Christmas, I will take that to heart.
At about this time every year, I start panicking about Christmas presents. There’s no real need to panic; for the most part, I’ve gotten the major gifts out of the way, and just have to do some touch-ups; but there’s always that concern that my gift is going to be a flop, or I’ve forgotten someone, or that somehow, I’m doing Christmas wrong.
But that’s just the point, isn’t it? Maybe that is doing Christmas wrong. Maybe we constantly do all holidays wrong. Whatever you believe about whatever holiday you celebrate, I can almost guarantee you that it did not start off the way it is today. And I’m not talking about the stories that these holidays are rooted in — let’s set those aside for a moment, and focus on the traditions for a second. Gift-giving can’t always have been the standard in holiday celebrations; in fact, the very idea of a gift proves that statement true. You give a gift because you want to lavish love on the person to whom you give it. That handful of people whose love language is gift-giving stepped forward and exercised the only way they knew how to love; and then, in humanity’s true fashion, we adopted that love and blanketed it over the entire population and made it a sort of twisted requirement.
There was a time when I wanted my gift to my entire family to be a trip. A few years ago, I said, let’s go somewhere in the US that we’ve never been before, that has a different culture than the one we’re used to, and experience it together. Let’s forget about presents and just spend time with each other. But with life, comes complications: first, there was the argument of how we would get there (flight, or road trip? Or in other words, lots of money, or lots of travel stress?), and then, in the end, it all came down to the fact that my grandparents wouldn’t be able to come with us. And let’s be honest, I couldn’t imagine not spending the holidays with them. (In retrospect of this year’s circumstances, I’m very glad we chose to remain with them.)
But the thought behind a trip was that it would cast aside all the busyness and stress that Christmas shopping brought into the mix, and simplify things into what the holidays are supposed to be: a time for family, whether by blood or by choice. A time to relax into the arms of your loved ones, to stop time just for one day and ignore the constant rush of everyday life. To live in the moment; to breathe, and know that you are breathing in love.
Today, I think we can still accomplish that, as long as we’re intentional about it. Even if we don’t take a trip, and even if we still fuss over what to get that last family member.
There have been a lot of things lately that have nearly pushed me over the edge emotionally, but the thing that has gotten me through is the thought of the people around me who care, and love, and cherish. The people who worry over you, even if you don’t want to be worried over, because they can’t imagine a world in which not caring would be a good thing. Whether family or friends, I choose to embrace these people, because they are the reason that life continues. Sometimes we forget to look around us and see this.
If you haven’t already today, take at least one moment to do just that. Recognize the people who you consider to be family — at the very least, recognize them. Shit happens, and you want to make sure you experience every ounce of them before it does. Don’t let gift-giving and picture-taking get in the way of experiencing love, and don’t take love for granted. It’ll always be there, but the people who harness it may not. And that, my friends, is what the holidays are about: harnessing that love and experiencing it in the moment you have before you.