History in the Celebrating
It’s now three days after Christmas, and the holiday spirit feels farther away than it did six weeks ago. Then again, that is how this swiftly moving era usually works – yesterday is yesterday’s news.
Or is it?
If you’re talking about celebrity gossip, or consumer electronics, or cool catch phrases, it would be true. However, being a historian of sorts, I find it both fascinating and comforting that Christmas, more than any other time of year, is a season where Yesterday is king.
From my observation, Christmas is a common [often subconscious] excuse for us all to feel like we’re connected to history, a happy obligation to practice this wonderful little thing called tradition.
OK, I know all of this sounds kind of boring, but just think about it for a second. Old stories, old songs, old recipes, and a deep seated urge to follow all sorts of little routines out of some bizarre feeling of happy obligation. Why do we all at this time of year put up evergreen trees in our homes and businesses covered with shiny things, or bake unreasonable amounts of cookies, or display these enormous sock-like things near our fireplaces, or decorate ourselves and everything around us with red and green? It has nothing to do with survival, or a response to present-day needs. We do it because we grew up with it, or we are surrounded by others who grew up with it…. pure tradition.
You might be sitting there right now with this disinterested “duh” look for such an obvious statement, but really this is something very profound. We live in a world where almost nothing aside from raw human nature is the same today as it was 100 years ago. Everything from family life to occupational life to social life has changed. Even basic things like language and maps have changed. True, Christmas also has changed in the past 100 years (mostly due to the rapid increase in consumerism), but it is still full of traditions which go back many centuries — if not 2000 years.
So this year, if you get a chance to contemplate why Santa rides a sleigh rather than a helicopter, or why you’re putting up a tree rather than a wall decal, or why the parking lots of all the churches around you are full to overflowing on Christmas Eve, you may give yourself the time to be grateful that there are some ways of doing things in this world worth preserving.