If you're reading this, it'll be exactly one week before Christmas. Or as the song from The Muppets Christmas Carol goes one more sleep til Christmas. And it couldn't have come sooner. I'm pretty sure around this time you'd be planning out which store to go next to get the special gift and braving the crowds. You're probably finalizing dinner plans, whether that's getting some of the ingredients ahead of time or making the shopping list for the official trip the week of Christmas. You're probably making sure that your relatives who are traveling across the country or closer are able to make it in time to spend the holidays with you. You're probably making Christmas cookies or gingerbread houses together to bring the festivities to life. You're probably blasting Christmas songs and singing at the top of your lungs (and off-key can be acceptable at times. Emphasis on "at times".) You're probably heading out to get the Christmas tree from a tree mart and can't wait to get home to set it up and decorate it in the next few days, or even within a few hours. You'd be thinking and planning all of these things around this time, right? Well, I'd be with you on that and more. But then, well, things got turned on their head. In a BIG way. I'm pretty sure you don't need me to tell you how things have turned out this year. We're in the middle of a pandemic, and all of the plans and ideas we've had for this year went out the window. Or maybe it hasn't, depending on where you are. We've all had to adjust in many ways, and we're bone-weary about it. The last thing we wanted was for all of our holiday plans to be practically ruined and making adjustments that cause quite a headache for all of us. You might even be saying "Bah, humbug!" under your breath on several occasions. (Please don't!) It can be easy to feel down and depressed this time of year, especially in a pandemic. We crave interactions with our families and friends. We want to attend those Ugly Christmas sweater or holiday parties. We long to gather with extended family to light the menorah for Hanukah or gather together for Christmas dinner. We hope to get the great white elephant presents. We miss going out caroling with our friends. Truth be told, we miss doing all of these things and more. It's hard being isolated from each other. I know that just as well as anybody. I miss hugging my friends and relatives. I miss congregating in church giving praise and honor to God. I miss the thrill of going to the malls and shopping for that special gift or a great bargain. I miss petting friendly dogs. I miss people being able to see my smiles and smile back out of kindness. I miss traveling up to NYC on the bus and watching a Broadway matinee. I miss going to DC and seeing the holiday lights in all their splendor. I miss being able to ride the metro and watching the Christmas decorations and lights as I go by. I miss going to the theatre. I miss wandering around the bookstores and libraries. I miss going for drives just to get out of the apartment and have a change of scenery. I miss window shopping or browsing around stores aimlessly. I miss being able to have a conversation without being six feet or more away. I miss being able to go for my walks without a mask on and breathing the fresh air. I miss going to the movies. I even miss auditioning in person! And so much more. I miss so much of the ordinary things we've been doing for most of our lives, and now I'm not sure if I will ever take them for granted again. I hope none of you take these seemingly insignificant things for granted ever again. It can be taken away just like that.
This past week, I've been hearing a lot about this time of year from friends, acquaintances, and family, both good and not so good. And it's gotten me thinking about how I can truly treasure the season going forward. Perhaps we can all learn how to remember what the Yuletide celebrations are really all about. On Mondays, I join an ensemble theatre group from NYC via Zoom for some devising and writing exercises for a script. One of the things we do as we're about to begin is a check-in with each other and see how we're doing. There is no shame or holding things back because we're all in the same boat at different stages in our lives - we're isolated and dealing with overwhelming emotions, but we're also clinging to hope. And that can make all of the difference in the world. On this particular check-in, two of my fellow actors shared their feelings about the coming holiday season, and what they said got me thinking about Christmas as a whole. Both of them said that they were disillusioned by the meaning of the season and that much of the messages are lost in commercialism. Not to mention having to spend time with family members who aren't exactly the nicest or most agreeable people to be around. I guess Charlie Brown was right about not being happy about Christmas. The real spirit has been lost in commercialism, and love is severely lacking in many of us. So many times this year we've been bombarded with ads and commercials encouraging us to go out to the latest sales to get that perfect holiday outfit. Or get a great deal on a 50" TV. Or buy the latest gadgets and toys for your children. Or get that brand new car with a big bow on top. It's all about gimme, gimme, gimme. Get, get, get. Buy, buy, BUY!!!!!!!! I'm sure we're all guilty of falling for commercialism during the holidays. I know I am because it happens to me every year. (Especially after a 70+ weight loss. The clothing options are endless now!) But you'd think that during a pandemic there would be a shift away from spending out money on items and focusing more on what the season is really all about. And much of it doesn't involve buying things for others as a sure way of happiness. What about friendship? What about laughter? What about experiences, not things? What about the little things that make us happy? What about compassion? What about kindness? What about making memories, good or bad? What about joy? What about hope? What about gratitude? What about the family? What about unconditional love? Shouldn't these qualities and more be at the forefront of the season? Not commercialism? This past Sunday, I attended church service virtually, and one of the things my pastor said at the top of the sermon was that God was dethroning all of us from our comfort zones. Maybe there's a reason for the dethroning, and not just because of putting our faith in a higher power. Maybe it's to realize that the way we've been doing things in our lives, especially during the holidays, need to change. Time and healing can change people, in a good or bad way. Perhaps it's time to put the focus on the true meaning of the holidays, and that may mean changing our thinking and perceptions. Even if it means allowing this year to test us and show us what we're really made of, it can be for good if we have the courage to pursue it. Perhaps it's time for families to make an effort to truly love each other, and that may mean understanding that their definitions of love and care may not mean the same thing for others. Especially to those relatives who aren't well-liked or admired in family gatherings. It may be time to give up bad habits, outdated ideas, and negative thoughts in order to truly move forward. You shouldn't have to automatically accept the bad side of yourself as who you are as an individual. You shouldn't have to resort to naming yourself a not-so-likable relative because of your political beliefs. Take the opportunity to choose love and get to know your family OUTSIDE of politics, religion, and other heated debatable topics that can give everyone a headache. It's okay to disagree with each other, but it's never okay to tell others they're wrong for thinking a certain way and to love them any less. Each and every one of us is an individual, and we are all capable of loving one another for who we are, inside and out. No more, no less. At least this year take the time to love each other and get to know your family in a way that can be healing and comforting so that there can be comfort and joy. Of course, it's not always possible to do so in families. Some members are just simply too toxic and unwilling to change. In this case, it may be for the best to set boundaries between yourself and your loved ones. If one side simply refuses to change who they are or even acknowledge their behavior as detrimental to loved ones at family gatherings, you may just have to accept that this is who they are, make your feelings known in a polite but stern way, and then cut them out of your life, if need be. I had to do that to two members of my immediate family. It hurts, but it had to be done in order to truly heal and let the love I have for the people I care about the most come into my life. It is okay to say "no" to a relative's behavior if it makes you uncomfortable. No one should be forced to do anything they're not comfortable doing, especially at a young age, even if it is your relative. Somehow, cutting out the toxicity that was in your life may be just the healing that you yourself needed. And that, along with time, can really make a difference. Perhaps it's time to present experiences as the best gifts to give each other, as opposed to material things. It can be going to a new city, it can be a week-long cruise, it can be hiking in a mountainous region, it can be going to see live theatre, it can be ice skating, it can be going to a cooking class, or it can be anything you want. The important thing is to make memories and instill the confidence and joy of being an individual and being surrounded by like-minded people who share similar likes and tastes as you do. But even more so, it's the opportunity to see that there is more to life than just grabbing the best gift from the stores because it's on sale or it will make that person happiest. What good is a gift if there are no memories to go along with it? Or even love? Sometimes the experiences and the memories that come from them matter just as much as a physical object. Perhaps it's time to look for all of the good things that came from this year and past years, even if it's small. The littlest things can make all of the difference in the world. Whether that's waking up each day, a compliment from a stranger, a hug, a present from a friend, a conversation with a friend you haven't seen in a while, or even doing self-care, focus on the good instead of the bad. And by doing so you can build up those small good things into bigger good things for future years down the road. It's not easy to look at the glass half full when so much is happening around you that can bog you down or harden your heart. But I can attest that it's so much better than giving up. Your life IS worth living, and sometimes looking for the big things to make us happy may not be enough. As Joe Raposo's "Little Things" goes, "I believe in the little things that you can hardly see." And those little things can make the biggest difference in the world. Perhaps it's time to truly define what "hope" is. In the dictionary, it's defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Or even wanting something to happen or be the case. Do you place your hope in people? Money? Security? Technology? Food? Healthy trends? Books? The internet? Somethings placing our hope in the wrong things can be just as detrimental as having no hope at all because that particular hope in people or objects can be fleeting. I was always taught to place my hope in God, and somehow things have always worked out, even if it's not exactly what I hoped for or wanted. I'm not here to tell you to place your hope in God if you don't want to, but I will say that having hope on earthly things to solve your problems may not always work out to your advantage. Sometimes it's best to place our worries, fears, desires, and hopes in a higher power because somehow things will work out. As someone once told me, faith is not everything turning out okay. Faith is being okay no matter how things turn out. The same applies to hope, does it not? Somehow, things will work out like they're supposed to, even if it may not go exactly according to plan. Even if you don't get what you want, there's something better out there for you than what you long for right now. Sometimes having hope also means going out of your comfort zone to go after your heart's desire, and maybe the higher powers that be is reminding us that true growth doesn't happen standing still and letting life pass you by. It's being white-knuckled at times and just hanging on for the ride. Nobody said it would be easy, but there's a reason why none of us should give up hope. There are so many things we can do when this pandemic ends, and it WILL end. Perhaps it's time to get a head start on some of these ideas and more in order to be a better person to each other and with ourselves. Maybe that day is today.
(Like so many things, my words and ideas are just that. Ideas and opinions. You are welcome to disagree on any of this if you'd like. But just remember that it is the holiday season, and goodwill towards all is the rule. Each and every one of us should be kind and compassionate towards each other, and that includes whenever we give opinions and ideas. No Scrooges allowed!) I truly hope this holiday season is one filled with blessings, good tidings, and love. Even if we're apart from our extended loved ones and acquaintances, we can still celebrate what this season stands for. It certainly shouldn't be about commercialism, negativity, fear, or division. This time of year is always about love, and what greater love can be represented than God sending his Son to become man so that he can die for all of us? "Greater love hath no one than he who lays down his life for his friends." Love is truly the reason for the season, and it shouldn't have to be encompassed in the religious aspect if you don't believe in it. But just the same, we should never forget to love one another. This year has especially tested us, in more ways than one. And we are inching closer to saying "good riddance" or even dropping several f-bombs. But before we do, think back to what this year has taught you, leading up to the holiday season. Did you realize how strong you can be? Did you see that it's okay to not be in a constant rush and slow down a little bit? Did you get a chance to reconnect with friends, family, and people you haven't heard from in a long time? Did you have to start over, and by doing so, see what truly matters? Did you rekindle your first love, and make an effort to keep that fire going within you? Did you have to give up or relinquish ideas or false truths in order to heal? Did you have to determine who has truly been there for you, and cut out the people who haven't been there at all since your first meeting? Did you discover what life is really all about, even in the midst of a pandemic? Whatever it is you found out or realized, I hope you never forget what the true meaning of the season is all about. And that's LOVE. It always has been, and it always will be. Make an effort this holiday season, and the many more to come to show that love. Big or little, it can make all of the difference in the world. It shouldn't be extravagant all the time, but it can be as simple as an embrace or making your favorite dinner. My wish for you this holiday season? We never forget to love one another, in spite of our flaws and the craziness this world tells us about love. As scripture says so frequently, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) Also, it's time to put what truly matters to you in the center of your life. For me, it's God, my family, my friends, and my career. What is central to you that has now become the most important thing to hold dear in your heart? Maybe it's time to look back on what this year has taught you and make an effort to change and transform into the individual you were meant to become. Whatever it is, I hope you find what you're looking for, and take the time to celebrate what the holiday season is really all about. And I hope you never get lost trying to figure out its meaning. From my family to yours... Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Kwanzaa. May this season be one of joy and hope. Even if it's hard to find in the midst of the pandemic. I truly hope it is a happy, healthy, and wonderful season for all of you.