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Whatever happened to Christmas?

Another reveler weighs in on the hassled holiday

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Watching TV the other night, I heard the bright and sprightly song “We Wish you a Merry Christmas� coming over the tube at me. Only the words were changed. It sounded like “We wish you a happy holiday .� Aside from the fact that the syllables don't even match the notes … ahhh, picky picky, I was at first dismayed, than annoyed. I felt mystified and cheated. If I had written that song, I would have been outraged.

Worse yet, the final verse (it just went on and on … ) was wishing me a Happy Honda! Excuuuusse me? Happy Honda ? Isn't that a violation of copyright laws and common decency to boot? Did I not hear it right the first time? Was it Happy Honda all along? Oh please, do not put a Honda under my tree.

I love Christmas. Always have, even the ones that didn't make the fond memory list. There were a few. I already have my boxes out and my Santas up and soon (not too soon) I'll go out to choose my tree. It has to be very special, a fresh and fluffy fir, and just the right shape and size. No plastic or metal for me. Sorry about the environmental impact, but I personally think that is why pine trees were put on the earth. To help us celebrate this darkest of times, to carry the light that hides within like a seed or a child just waiting to be born.

I am not talking about a religious experience. It's more of a mystical or spiritual passage for me. Deeply connected to tradition, people who are gone, songs I remember from forever, and something bred in my genes. I want to honor all the traditions that abound at this time of year. Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice, Kwanzaa. To say “Happy Holidays� does none of them justice. It squeezes out all the juice.

Christmas is juicy. It is fragrant and red and deep, dark chocolate and warm cinnamon-laced cocoa, cranberry-wreathed, music-filled. Old carols ring out with bells and organs and violins, so rich there can be for me only one response: silence, awe, sometimes even a tear or two of joy. It's about joy. The kind of joy you don't find in a box with a plastic bow on top.

My personal celebration at this time of year is about Christmas. Yours might be Hanukkah. But these are holy days, not holidays. While that may be the genesis of the term, in common usage, a holiday is something we take to get out of town, away from work and home and responsibility. Holidays happen in far away places and usually in the long warm days of summer. This is not Holiday time. This is Christmas. It is dark and cold and we are seeking light. We reach out with love and songs, candles and gifts.

I love the presents. I love the shopping and the wrapping. I enjoy making each gift a little different as a unique and loving statement for the giftee. If it were possible, I would make every moment a festive moment. But rest and reflection are also a necessary part of the season; a time to regenerate the way the earth does, in anticipation of spring.

Spare me the “ seasons greetings� … even UNICEF cards — which I favor because of what they represent (and the children who benefit from their purchase) — too often have those paltry, pale words inside. “Seasons Greetings� is such a neutered message. It says absolutely nothing. I want to send a message that is poetic and personal, a message with warmth and zing. Years ago, I made my cards out of fancy papers and block prints and glitter, then I wrote out a carefully chosen phrase above my personal message. It took up the dining table and wore me out for weeks. I have simplified.

When I was a little girl my Auntie Cora used to take me to downtown Los Angeles where we would ride the streetcar and visit the old department stores. Block after block of windows would be alive with animated figures set into scenes like a stage production depicting various aspects of festivity. My child eyes were drawn in by the wonder and my imagination kindled, as I became a part of each scene. There were reindeer nodding, and Santa climbing and children waiting around a glowing hearth. We made our way slowly down the street past Bullocks, Robinsons, and Broadway. Sometimes we went inside, maybe even bought something. But that wasn't the point of it, at least not for me.

Those stores may have been the precursors of our big-box stores, only they were so very different. There were five or six floors and the elevators had bells and an elevator operator dressed in a suit who smiled and called out the floors and what you would find there. Toys, Ladies Lingerie, House wares …

At the street level, huge glass doors beckoned from all sides. We entered a fragrance-filled, high-ceilinged space filled with glitter and opulence. The decorated windows were a gift to the public each year. In other seasons they would be filled with cruise fashions or winter coats but at Christmas they were open boxes of delight and wonder for all who passed by.

Victoria's Secret on Higuera recently displayed a nude model showing off thong underwear to attract shoppers. What a blatant appeal to the basest instinct, and really rather dull. Wouldn't a more creative approach to window dressing be a more effective draw?

I am still a child at Christmas. I want to enjoy my shopping and I don't want to be manipulated by slogans woven into traditional tunes for the sake of making a buck. Each day junk mail is stuffed through the mail slot in my front door filled with cheap newsprint splashed with Holiday specials: Christmas trees and balls and poinsettias gather under a banner headline Holiday Headquarters . Who are they kidding? Hanukkah is blue and candles, not green trees with glittery balls and red flowers.

I imagine slick ad guys in the back room, afraid of losing a shopper who objects to Christmas. This is not about crosses on public buildings or school prayer. A more honest approach to the season might be a generic solstice special! We all are impacted by solstice whether or not we celebrate the shortening days and the turning of the planet toward the light.

For it is when we turn toward the light that we are blessed with all the mystical (and religious) traditions at this season. The image of an innocent's birth is seen by many as a metaphor for the innocence that lies dormant within us, waiting to be born. Again. Out of darkness and delusion, out of all the discordant distractions of the marketplace, out of war and turmoil that abide in this world, there comes this seasonal reminder that we are still capable of turning with the earth toward the light.

I choose to ignore all that holiday stuff. I throw it in the trash and go on about my business of decking the house, unpacking the ornaments and lovingly placing them on the green fir tree I will buy when I am ready … not too soon and not too late. It must be fresh and fragrant for the night we call Christmas Eve. Please, let's not start calling that holiday eve .

That could put me over the edge. I'd hate to turn into a scrooge after all these years of celebration. Gotta go, my gingerbread is ready to come out of the oven. ∆

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