Holiday Joy

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Holiday joy can be a fleeting thing this time of year, as many people feel more like scrooge, than Tiny Tim. Behind the advertising blitz that bombards us with consumerist images of smiling, well-dressed people giving cheerfully-wrapped packages is the dark truth of depression. U.S. tops the list in depression out of 14 countries in a recent World Health Organization poll.

Much holiday malaise can be traced to a sagging economy, and holiday expectations. A parent’s group;  the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, wrote letters to 24 leading toy companies and retailers to express concern about ads aimed at kids. These parents expressed dismay that they can’t afford the pricey toys that toymakers are heavily advertising to our children, and children feel diminished when they don’t get pricey toys.

It is hard to believe that we are descended from settler’s children who rejoiced at receiving a penny and a stick of candy as their main holiday gifts. In the 1800’s, our kin earned $1,500 per year, and would have had one nice set of clothes for church, and one shabby set for daily life. We worked twice as hard for a simple diet because we had to grow most of what we ate ourselves. Over the course of two hundred years, we have grown an average of 4 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, our houses have more than doubled in square footage, and we no longer find joy in a penny and a stick of candy.

We need to reclaim our holidays as times of family togetherness and joy, no matter what shape the economy is in. Even if you don’t celebrate the Christian holiday, or the Jewish Hanukkah, or African Kwanzaa, you can still celebrate a “Secular Sabbath,” in the words of NY Times food columnist; Mark Bittman. A secular Sabbath is a break from email, cell phones, television, and all the other distractions of modern living that keep us alienated from each other and real physical contact.

“You need not be elderly to remember when we had no choice but to reduce activity on Sundays; stores and offices — even restaurants — were closed, there were certainly no electronics, and we were largely occupied by ourselves or our families,” writes Bittman. This season, tune out the commercials, and remember that sustainable living means not filling a spiritual need with a material thing.

Shawn Dell Joyce is a nationally-syndicated newspaper columnist and director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery, NY.


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