Holiday Numb

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I usually find myself in a local coffee shop when I feel like writing. Most of the crowd who visit coffee shops confine themselves to the line and rarely stay to create unwelcome diversions. So it was when I came to the end of a paragraph this weekend and noticed cheery musak versions of classic holiday songs wafting through the air intertwined with the smell of fresh brewing coffee. I also noticed one of the staff busily arranging tinsel and aluminum enclosed coffee mugs around a sale display that endeavored to create the perfect holiday moment resulting in increased sales. This caused me to drift for a few moments, thinking about the role holiday music played for me as a kid in creating what we then called “The Christmas Spirit.” Little Town of Bethlehem or Silent Night were not just songs serving as the backdrop to holiday festivities, but were deeply felt spiritual tributes that caused reflection on the quality of one’s life or spiritual feelings. Silent Night was originally written by an Austrian monk in the 19th century capturing the sacred silence present at the birth of Jesus. I doubt he had any clue as to how it would be used in support of mass consumption in the future. As Black Friday expands into Black December, sacredness is being squeezed into a few obligatory midnight masses where hands are shaken, hymns are sung, and cookies eaten before all is forgotten on the ride home. People buy things to be part of a Christmas moment, but seem to have forgotten how to make one. A soup kitchen staffer once told me that everybody shows up Christmas Eve to hand a plate of food to a poor person, but the day after Christmas, they never see them again. Good deeds should be performed while truly “seeing” the person you are helping, not to feel you’ve fulfilled some holiday obligation. If we as a species are going to survive long-term, much less the 21st century, we need to find time for the sacred again and remember what exactly that means and feels like. Then share it with our children.

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