Last Thursday was the quasi-official start of the holiday season, though some stores began displaying Christmas items in October. By now, you may have started your holiday shopping, addressed your greeting cards, decorated your house with colored lights and set up your tree, and are planning the special meals or social events that will occur now through New Year’s Day.
I call this annual period the “holiday season” not to be politically correct, but to acknowledge that many events held at year’s end no longer focus on the Nativity. Rather they draw upon ethnic, cultural, social, family, personal, commercial, and non-Christian religious sources. Nowadays the traditional of celebrating Christmas with a period of preparation leading to special events on Christmas Eve and Day and a 12-day season ending on Jan. 6 is for many no longer the core of the holiday season. Even where those remain significant, they may be less prominent than the family gathering in front of the Christmas tree to open presents, or later share a holiday feast, or the festivities of New Year’s Eve and Day.
Christmas has evolved into the holiday season. Why has this happened? Pre-pagan year-ending rituals and observances, transformed by early Christianity into celebrations of the Nativity have now become as diverse as American religion and culture themselves. The Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, followers of the Wiccan and other pagan religions observe the winter solstice, and the Baha'i, Sikh, and other faith traditions observe special days within a holiday season that is as religiously diverse as our society has become.
In addition, much that is done during this time has become meaningful and important in its own right, whether personally, for families, culturally, as a society, and even commercially. Retail companies depend on a brisk holiday selling season for a healthy bottom line, businesses and corporations center part of their social life on holiday parties, rewarding good employees with holiday bonuses. We send greeting cards, often including family pictures and a newsy letter, buy, wrap, and exchange gifts, hold social events and serve large meals, and maintain ties with family and friends during the holiday season. An abundance of charitable giving is undertaken in November and December, and there are special musical, theatrical, sporting and other entertainment opportunities to attend. The holiday season has become a valuable part of our existence as a society.
The holiday season has evolved into something much larger than its parts, however those elements are defined. It has become an umbrella for a host of activities rooted in vast and diverse faiths, traditions, practices, and understandings. Why then is it important? Why do we have a holiday season? What role does it really play in our lives and that of our society?
That question inevitably becomes personal – and brings me back to the topic of this column – “Harwich and the holiday season.”
The holiday season is when we feel good about ourselves, kind, generous, content, satisfied, connected with others, neither afraid nor worried. It is a time when we let go of our negative emotions and see ourselves, each other, and our world in a positive light. The things we do, individually, as families, and as a community and society this time of year make those positive feelings possible. They may not be the only reason the Harwich Town Band performs a holiday concert, merchants on Route 28 hold holiday strolls, stores, offices, and radio stations play Christmas carols, the town places decorations on street poles, churches and organizations plan special events, and homeowners decorate their houses with colored lights and trees. However, whatever those other reasons may be, being a part the holiday season make us and our world feel right.
I started thinking about this column by asking: “Why do we have an annual holiday season?” Some reasons I have just shared. However, there is one more – a personal one. Harwich can be a dark town at night. Streetlights are sparse and can even be non-existent; some stores do not leave a light on when they close. Vacant second homes and vacation rentals are empty and dark. In addition, during the winter, when the days are shorter and some homes are vacated by snowbirds, it can be even darker. The absence of light can have a negative effect on our lives, especially in the early months of the year. That maybe one of the origins of what has for us become the holiday season.
So for me, to have a month before the end of the year when houses in Harwich are brightly lit lifts my spirit and gives me a memory that can tide me over until the days are longer and spring arrives.
For that reason, I thank Harwich for this holiday season.