Finding the Christmas Spirit in a World Gone Mad
I’m trying. I’m trying really, really hard. But this year, getting in that holiday mood, feeling the ‘Christmas Spirit’ seems harder than usual. But I am trying. But I’m feeling more like poor depressed Charlie Brown than I’m comfortable with.
The tree is up; the lights are lit. The music is, well, it’s everywhere. We’re going through the motions, but the warm, comforting feeling that I associate with this time of year is elusive. It’s here for a sec, then it’s gone.
What’s going on? I’ve been thinking about it. A lot. And I think I’ve got it figured out.
For starters, here in Michigan, we usually have some cold, snowy winter weather to set the mood for the holidays. Not this year. This year we’ve got lots of gray skies, temperatures in the forties (Seriously, is there a more useless range of temperature than the 40’s? Really, they’re good for nothing) and most importantly, not a flake of snow. Lots of people around here are just fine with that, but in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I feel that a little bit of snow cover (but not too much) is in order. A winter wonderland we do not have this year.
Secondly, and on a much more personal level, is the absence of my mother. She passed away in October of last year, over a year ago, but it seems like her presence is missed more strongly this holiday season than last. As I’ve mentioned, she loved this time of year, the sheer festiveness of it, and her joy was contagious. Without her, things seem a little (lot) less joyful. The lights are a little less bright. Anyway, I miss her everyday, but I guess this time of year will always be a little less festive without her. And that sucks.
But even with all the gray, snowless days, and with me feeling the loss of my mom, I think there’s a bigger reason the Holiday Spirit is so slippery and hard to grasp on to this year. It’s that fricking social media.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, let me bring you up to speed on world events: Things are shitty all over. We’ve got one gun massacre after another in this country, wars raging around the world, a presidential candidate whose name I won’t mention (ok, it’s Donald Trump) who can’t open his mouth without spewing some kind of racist, xenophobic rant. And he opens his mouth a lot, and loudly. Worse yet, every time he says something ridiculously callous or hateful, millions of my fellow Americans stand up and cheer (if his poll numbers and rally turnouts are to be believed.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. Things are always bad on a ‘big picture’ level. Always have been, always will be. There’s 7 billion of us crammed onto this planet, and tempers are going to flare. It’s unavoidable. There will always be problems, and violence, and war. Try as we might (granted I don’t think we try hard enough, but still), humans seem to thrive on disagreements and violence.
That said, things are really not that bad for most of us, most of the time. Good people outnumber bad; peaceful trumps warlike. I truly believe that. I have to, or I’ll lose my mind. But I do believe it’s true.
The problem is, and again it’s an age old problem, is that ‘nice’ doesn’t get attention as well as ‘not nice.’ The media are always going to focus on the murdered over the not murdered. Peace just doesn’t sell. The loud-mouth politician wanna-be gets way more attention paid to him, regardless of the worthlessness of what he’s saying, than the more rational ‘boring’ candidates. If it bleeds, it leads.
The internet age, and subsequent social media age, focuses on all of this negativity like a laser, and puts it before our eyes, and therefore our minds, over and over and over, all day long and all night, too. Our ancestors never had this kind of non-stop exposure to literally every bad thing going on in the world all at the same time. When news traveled by foot throughout the lands, most people never heard any news, ever, from outside their own tiny village. How nice would that be? The printing press sped things up a great deal, but still news moved pretty slowly.
In the age of electronic broadcast, first radio and then television, the news suddenly became much more sudden, much more instantaneous. Which was great for generalized knowledge of world events, but even then, when things got to be too much, shutting it out was as easy as turning a knob off.
Nowadays, we’re not so lucky. Technology has gotten us to the point where if a deranged shooter kills somebody on the other side of the planet, we’re aware of it almost as it’s happening. And then we’re subjected to it, and analysis of it, opinions about it, for hours, days, weeks…Until the next awful thing happens. And again, because it’s the horribleness in the world that draws the most attention, it’s the horribleness of the world that everybody on social media, from the news outlets to our uncles and neighbors, dwells on.
And that’s the problem. In our race to get technology that’ll tell us everything all the time, I don’t think anybody stopped to think about what that kind of negativity overload has on our human brains. We’re highly-evolved, very intelligent beings (well, most of us) but not even our large brains can evolve as quickly as our technology. I don’t think we’re equipped well at all to have the constant stream of terrible news delivered to us the way we do today. We don’t have time to process it all.
And I feel like it’s changing us, at least me, in not-so-good ways. It’s creating anxiety. And fear. And stress. We seem to be more afraid these days, don’t we? Or is it just me? The always-on feed of horrible news is making us feel like things really are out of control. That every cop is a killer, that every Muslim is a terrorist. And it’s just not true. The statistics tell us we’re safer than ever. We’re healthier than ever. Crime is down. Violent crime is way down. But we’re not happier.
So what should we do? I don’t think the internet and smartphones and social media are going anywhere anytime soon. But I’ve got to do something. I’m tired of Facebook making my blood pressure go up because of all the maddening things I see there; I’m tired of seeing a thousand tweets offering opinions from all sides when somebody says something or does something. I need a break from it. I think we all do.
So I’m spending a little time adjusting my Facebook feed, trying to control what I see, and more importantly, what I don’t see. I’m adjusting my phone’s notifications, turning most of them off. I don’t need the Pavlovian reaction of running to the phone every time it beeps, just to hear about another mass shooting or another horrifying Trump quote. Better yet, I’m trying to spend less time staring at screens, period. The real world around us is more beautiful and much less scary than the world we see through our screens…I’m not saying I want to be uninformed, not at all. I’ll still pay attention to what’s going on in the world, but I’m just going to try to be not so overinformed, if that’s even a word. If it’s not, it should be, because I honestly feel that in this age of being overinformed, it’s making us all a little dumber, a little meaner. It’s making large numbers of people want to follow their knee-jerk hateful first reactions, making them want to try to solve our violence issues with even more guns. It’s totally misguided, but I can understand how people get so irrationally freaked out; they’re being told all day long that the world’s out to get them. It’s time to tune in (to what’s really important in our own lives), turn on (to the lives of our loved ones and our communities) and drop out (from the constant onslaught of horror and fear-mongering that’s tearing us apart, figuratively and literally.) I hate to sound like a hippie, but there you go. While we’re at it, it also wouldn’t hurt for us to do something nice, something charitable, for those who are in need.
So it looks like we’re going to be having a green Christmas…and I miss you Mom, so much, but you left us with beautiful memories, especially around this time of year, for us to remember and try to emulate. I’m thinking that maybe the Christmas Spirit has really been here all along, I’ve just been distracted by other things.
But Donald Trump? Seriously? This guy really is an a-hole. This country can, and definitely should, do so much better than this narcissistic clown. He’s the Ebenezer Scrooge of our times.
And now, let’s celebrate the season with some fun stuff, some of my favorite Christmas things!
The Free Design, ‘Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas Time)
The Honeymooners ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’
Stevie Wonder & Andra Day ‘Someday at Christmas’ (I know it’s an ad, but oh my…)
Nick Lowe ‘Christmas at the Airport’
Jack Benny Christmas Shopping Radio Show, 1943
I’ll be sharing lots of cool Christmas stuff in the next couple of weeks, trying to keep things merry!