The other day I was driving up to San Francisco in the rain + early stages of rush hour. But instead of getting frustrated and impatient the way I normally do, I found myself being much more agreeable about the whole thing, and feeling much more charitable toward my fellow drivers.
Because I was listening to Christmas music.
Which led me to think, “heh, I should listen to this all year round!” Except . . . that wouldn’t work. I have other music that sounds pleasant or cheerful, whose lyrics urge (not necessarily in these words) peace and goodwill toward my fellow humans, and it doesn’t usually produce this reaction. Because repetition has dulled its edge. It’s precisely because I don’t listen to Christmas music all year round that it can affect my behavior.
Slacktivist (the blogger Fred Clark) has talked about the irony of “but it’s Christmas!” as an argument for why somebody shouldn’t be a dick. In theory, we should not be dicks to each other at any time. It’s easy to let that slide, though, as the stresses and aggravations of daily life accumulate; Christmas — and other holidays in other faiths — are a reminder to step back and try to see the people around you as people, to reconsider whether you’re being as patient and charitable as you could be. Training wheels for the rest of the year.
But not in the way retailers want. They start trying to push that “special holiday spirit” on you earlier and earlier every year — but theirs is the spirit of commercialism, not peace. They may talk about opening your heart, but it’s actually your wallet they want to see open. Buy, buy, buy. The problem is, by using these signifiers of the season to sell that message, they dull the edge. They rob the “special things” of their power to move us.
I can avoid it somewhat, thanks to the structure of my life. I don’t remember the last time I went to the mall, and I don’t even go into individual retail stores (apart from the grocery store) often enough to get fully inundated with Christmas carols in October. I don’t watch broadcast TV, so I’m not being deluged with commercials about Black Friday deals in mid-November. I can easily delete the emails that hit my inbox, and they don’t blare music at me. I can keep the special things special. Not everybody can, though.
Anyway, today we hung the garlands (which I’ve been meaning to do for a week), and our decorations are set up in their usual places. We don’t have a tree yet because it’s been raining near-constantly, but we hope to fix that in the next few days. Our house is getting dressed up in its fancy holiday clothes. The lights will remind me of hope in a time of darkness. And as much as I’ll hate taking all of that down after Christmas, leaving behind the dull, workaday appearance my surroundings have the rest of the year, I know the reason this makes me happy right now is because it isn’t constantly there. It’s only here briefly, and because of that, it has more power.