Alfred and Eleanor Wilcox were two of my favorite people on earth. When I was first born, our family lived with them in New York for those first years of my life they introduced me to the concept of “home.”
As I grew up, and our family relocated all over New England, we always found a way to get back to Alfred and Eleanor’s house for the holidays. “Nana” and “Bampa” were their “real” names for all four of us grandkids. The smell of Nana’s cooking and Bampa’s ever-present smile were always a highlight for our visits.
Of course, actually finding Bampa sitting down in one place long enough to see the smile was always a challenge. As I look back now, it is obvious that lots of care, love, time and hard work went into creating that atmosphere that we looked forward to and appreciated so much.
Shortly after their passing, a strange and unsettling change took place in my life. I no longer looked forward to the holidays and frankly, became a bit of a scrooge regarding the whole season. I’ll admit that a part of my annoyance with the holidays was (and is) the unstoppable wave of commercialism that pervades the whole four to six weeks.
The simple fact that nearly all of the focus last month was about Black Friday instead of Thanksgiving is a testament to the twisted values much of our society has accepted as the norm. And now it seems that if you're not buying your significant other a diamond, you are not a good person. But even apart from that, a special sentiment and “feeling” about the holidays was gone for me. The simple truth was that I had associated those members of the family so tightly with the season that when they were gone, so too was my holiday spirit.
Adding lights to your home, lighting a menora or a kinara or even going “all in” and including a Santa with reindeer up on your roof are all steps people take to share their spirit of the holidays. It is obvious these items are intended for “others” because most of these ornaments or decorations cannot be seen from inside the house. This, I have finally learned, is the true spirit of the holidays.
As a kid, most of us are conditioned to believe that the holidays, especially Christmas, are about us. It is no secret that the marketing machine has been programming us to “shop till we drop” and pulling no punches in their depiction of the true happiness derived from getting that year’s Tickle me Elmo. I’m confident that many people transitioning toward adulthood are forced to go through this same transition as I did and finally get their holiday focus flipped around towards others.
I know most of you reading this today can easily flash back to a handful of experiences in which the gift or gesture you gave to someone was the highlight of their season. And, as selfish as it sounds, there is no greater feeling for the “giver” than that excitement and appreciation you were able to create.
I have an idea that is how parents must feel when their kids explode with excitement over a specific toy or gift they were able to give. Even if they do end up playing with the box it came in. I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that for me, it was a Spock helmet that lit up and made some noises. According to mom, I wore it for about 10 minutes and then moved on. Sorry about that one.
Once we realize the holidays are not about us, we start to see how easy it is to get in the spirit. Once I accepted that Nana and Bampa were not the reason I loved the holidays, I could finally create and share my own holiday spirit.
As is true with the overall theme of the holidays, once you start to share that spirit and excitement, it becomes contagious. Once we realize that the people around us are the reason for the season, we start to understand that we create our own holiday spirit.
This sentiment is true regardless of where you live. I adorned my drafty and tattered 300-square-foot cabin with Christmas lights and candles every year I lived there. Driving in the driveway with the lights going always gave me a little lift regardless of the home.
"We can all take small steps to make our homes shine with that holiday spirit and bring a small piece of joy not only to ourselves, but also to those passing by," Badger Realty agent Denice Tepe said.
I am blessed with a loving family, some fantastic friends and a warm house. I can look around on a daily basis and find something to be thankful for and someone to appreciate. The hustle and bustle can try to get in the way. Bills, work, stress and “life” can also throw up walls and attempt to steal your holiday spirit.
My plea and encouragement for you today and for the next few weeks is to focus on others. Focus on sharing your good fortune and holiday joy with someone else. And learn from my stubbornness that your holiday spirit won’t come from other people; it is going to be a conscious effort on your part. I promise the payoff will be worth it.