closeup photo of baubles on christmas tree

This is an updat­ed ver­sion of an arti­cle first pub­lished in the Winchester Sun on November 21, 2019.

I have a con­fes­sion to make. I love every­thing relat­ed to the Christmas sea­son: The music. The dec­o­ra­tions. Time off from work. Shopping for and exchang­ing gifts. Family tra­di­tions. Food. Office par­ties. Holiday movies. Enhanced feel­ings of good­will and joy toward oth­ers. Opportunities to vol­un­teer and help the less fortunate.

The list goes on and on.

I know a lot of this is com­mer­cial­ized and kitschy. Much of it is vac­u­ous. But I love it all. I can’t help it — I’m wired that way. It’s got­ten to the point where my wife has start­ed call­ing me Clark Griswold, the char­ac­ter por­trayed by Chevy Chase in the clas­sic 1980s movie “Christmas Vacation.” I don’t real­ly mind. I’ve always iden­ti­fied with Clark in that regard.

It seems the sea­son has grown longer with each gen­er­a­tion. My moth­er used to tell how, when she was a child in the post-World War II era, most folks put up a live tree on Christmas Eve. They would take it down a few days lat­er, often well before New Year’s Day.

By the time I was a child, arti­fi­cial trees were the norm, but we nev­er put ours up before Dec. 15. There would be a few dec­o­ra­tions about the house, and maybe a string of lights around the front win­dow. But that was the extent of our hol­i­day decorating.

Things are dif­fer­ent now. Stores trot out their Christmas dis­plays and mer­chan­dise well before Halloween. Many folks begin dec­o­rat­ing their homes for the sea­son ear­ly in November. 

My wife and I are now in the midst of our annu­al hol­i­day dec­o­rat­ing project. A dozen or more totes full of things to be car­ried down from the attic. Lights to be strung along the eaves of the house and on every liv­ing thing in the front yard. The foy­er and the man­tle decked out in fes­tive col­ors and themes.

We’ve already start­ed with our annu­al movie tra­di­tions. Our favorites are the already-men­tioned “Christmas Vacation,” along with “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A “Christmas Story,” the “Home Alone” movies, and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Amind all the joy and rev­el­ry, let’s not for­get that there is the gen­uine issue of hol­i­day depres­sion. Not every­one has a fam­i­ly to cel­e­brate with. Some strug­gle with feel­ings of inad­e­qua­cy because of the inabil­i­ty to buy gifts for friends and fam­i­ly. Others suf­fer from sea­son­al affec­tive dis­or­der (SAD) or oth­er emo­tion­al disorders.

People speak often of the “true mean­ing of Christmas.” I under­stand how some Christians might feel it’s wrong mak­ing it about any­thing but the birth of Jesus.

But I have always felt “mean­ing” is a sub­jec­tive con­cept. I don’t believe any­thing has inher­ent mean­ing; it’s a pure­ly human con­struct. Each of us decides what mean­ing to attach to events and things.

Most of what we asso­ciate with the hol­i­day sea­son has no reli­gious con­nec­tion at all. Much of it dates back to pre-Christian Pagan prac­tices. A lot of it is sim­ply mod­ern com­mer­cial exploitation.

Let’s not for­get that not every­one cel­e­brates Christmas. Many oth­er reli­gious (and non-reli­gious) tra­di­tions have oth­er hol­i­days around the time of the Winter Solstice. But there are a few con­cepts and tra­di­tions near­ly every­one can agree on. Things we all hold dear. Things like peace, joy, and love. Spending time with beloved fam­i­ly and friends. Exchanging mean­ing­ful gifts or just shar­ing a phone call or visit.

Pausing to count one’s bless­ings — and spread­ing them to oth­ers. Sharing and caring.

That is my per­son­al mean­ing of the sea­son. It’s for each of us to decide what mean­ing is con­tained in our celebrations.

However you choose to cel­e­brate this sea­son, I send you and yours best wish­es for the hol­i­days and for the com­ing year. May you find peace and happiness.

  • Pete Koutoulas

    Pete is an IT pro­fes­sion­al work­ing in Lexington. Formerly of Campton, he and his wife have lived in Winchester since 2015. Pete is a for­mer week­ly news­pa­per pub­lish­er and for­mer colum­nist for the Winchester Sun. These days, when not work­ing he can often be found on his back porch read­ing or writ­ing, in the back­yard tend­ing to his toma­to plants, or put­ter­ing around in his garage or work­shop. Reach Pete at pete@wincitynews.org.