December 12, 2021

When Did the Meaning of Christmas Change?


*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here


I wake this morning to fog in the valley. “Hallelujah,” I muse, we’re finally getting snow.

An hour later, the sun burns away the clouds. The valley returns to its new state of normal. Arid, parched, tinder-dry tawny grasses. Gusting. Occasionally, a williwaw comes through to reaffirm. There will be no moisture up here at 8,000 feet above sea level again today. Skiers will continue to slide down icy, manmade snow slopes in the absence of celestially-derived precipitation—wishing for days of knee-high powder. Trailers with new southern transplants will tow their ATVs up to Pleasant Valley to tear up the trails in the wilderness and drive the moose further up toward the continental divide, as that is their God-given right to enjoyment out in nature.

Thoughts quickly turn to a long-awaited Friday. It’s been a long week of tending to everyone else’s health and daily needs. Willie Grommit, our disabled southern hound mutt with bullets in his chest and a broken spine courtesy of Texas, now has another unwelcome souvenir—heartworm. Smudges, our southern black-mouth curr is recovering from dental surgery. The woodlands in which we ritually walk have needed us to pull dead branches from its bowels on a daily basis, to keep us safe from sudden conflagration and disaster. Not to mention the quotidian tasks gobbling up hours on end. The demands of daily life leave little room for else, as we all well know.

In all of it, I’ve been waiting for a moment I could feel enough joy or lightheartedness to think about preparing for Christmas.

It’s hard to think about Christmas this Friday—when the weather is 55 degrees one day and 20 the next, and when gusting and williwaws replace falling snow, the ultimate blessing to wintertime Earth.

And yet, the holiday will come, whether we want it to or not. Retailers will push their material goods on society as though the earth isn’t changing for all the ill effects humanity has visited upon it. People will go on pretending as if nothing is happening because they feel helpless to control any of it. They will jump online to buy that pair of Uggs from Zappo’s as if it didn’t involve gallons of jet fuel contributing further to carbon output, or help put their friend out of a job at REI down in Boulder.

How is one supposed to feel happy for a holiday that no longer means anything to many of us? I used to love Christmas. Not that it celebrated the birth of Jesus, as my mother used to exclaim every Christmas morning, but because it was a holiday which embodied warmth, joy, generosity, and best of all—connection. It meant the material things, of course—those “just because” gifts symbolizing care and love for another. It meant people went out of their way to help one another, because their hearts were open and their minds united with other fellow human beings. It meant a sacred time in our culture, when peace authentically became the ultimate sentiment. When despite family quarrels involving too much wine or other manifestations of human disappointment, forgiveness and understanding loomed larger than any petty egocentric issue.

That was before climate change, when the earth was feeling joyful and healthy. All that Bing Crosby nostalgic, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light,” stuff? That was before, when nature shared her beauty for all to enjoy.

Does that sound cynical? Pessimistic? Maybe. It’s how some of us feel right now. Me, specifically, and perhaps you? People used to gather around the holidays. Friends got together at parties to eat, drink, and be merry. They didn’t have to ask each other, “Are you vaccinated?” before they came through the front door. They looked into each other’s faces and they smiled, because they didn’t have to wear life-protecting masks. They didn’t discriminate for political preferences—as being a member of one party meant you wanted to keep more of your wealth in the form of tax cuts. And that was more or less the difference.

Now, being a member of one party means you’re sending out the family Christmas card featuring your young sons clutching AR-15s, à la Lori Boebert, because along the line, the right to possess weapons—threatening to murder a blessed life on Earth—became the new Christmas message. Now, the only snow on the horizon is that of the educated liberal properly horrified with such morally and ethically-vacant images.

How shall we now celebrate this once blessed holiday, now that a form of hell on earth has come to reality and not yet passed?

How shall we now feel as we sit on our front porches in 70 degree temperatures at 8,000 feet, staring out into a parched valley and glimpsing starving moose wandering through in search of drying vegetation, where once we used to gather by the fire with a glass of mulled wine in our hand as the snow fell outside?

Personally, I intend to celebrate small, as that’s what life now requires. I will continue to look for the heroes and others doing good, à la Greta Thunberg—as she marks the mindset of the next generation. I intend to celebrate alongside our rescue dogs, as before such a term implied search and -rescue of a person and not a dog rescued from the hands of the kill shelter from which they were pulled in the brink of time.

I intend to celebrate with my sweet scientist husband and encourage him to join the Union of Concerned Scientists, because adding one more voice to the population who know how to combat the ill effects of carbon on the planet can never hurt. I intend to give him a pair of moccasins from Perry’s shoe shop up in town, or a fleece from REI down in Boulder, to save a special trip from the FedEx guy up the Canyon. I intend to give perhaps a little less in quantity, but greater in meaning.

And just maybe I’ll invite over a few single friends, as I know this time of a too-long pandemic has been taking its toll on them. And I won’t have to ask them to show a valid vaccination card, as I’ll already know them.

Think I’ll get started on a few invites today.

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