Being a generally cynical person (working in the news business does that to you), I grow increasingly disgusted with the celebration of Christmas in this country.
I tend to look for the substance, or lack thereof, of things, boiling them down to their basic ingredients (again a by-product of journalism), and when I do so with Christmas there’s just no there there.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the warm times with family and friends that the holiday season can include, and some of the lights and other decorations are cool. But I pretty much find everything else about the holiday distasteful to the point of nausea.
Whereas Thanksgiving for the most part is a genuine time to be thankful, Christmas in some ways can be described as the anti-Thanksgiving.
If you can free yourself from the grips of the “holiday spirit” (aka mind-control hype) long enough to view the situation subjectively, it’s a plastic, phony period when much of the emphasis instead is on hollow sentiments, selfishness, self-indulgence, over-indulgence and various forms of commercially motivated manipulation.
Often the latter is fueled by guilt and someone else’s outright demands or passive-aggressive expectations — whatever works to captivate the consumer.
The important, “real” parts of Christmas that haven’t been spoiled, such as its religious and fellowship aspects, increasingly are obscured by all the meaningless rituals that suck people in, and do so earlier and earlier each year.
Then when it’s all over, many are left with an empty feeling because their expectations haven’t been met, probably because they have based their happiness on the wrong things surrounding the holiday — materialism rather than humanism.
All that being said, every now and then you do run across examples of what Christmas truly should be about. These are few and far between, which is what makes them so special. I ran across two recently.
Both surfaced on the same day, last Saturday, starting when I covered an annual event at Walmart in which local law enforcement officers go shopping with about 20 kids who can spend up to $150 under the sponsorship of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Naturally, most of the youths made a beeline to the video game aisle or other sections of the store to buy gifts for themselves, and there is nothing wrong with that. This was what the event was meant to accomplish. (And I must admit that if I were one of those kids, I would do the same thing.)
At the same time though, it was refreshing to encounter Malachi Smyers, a delightful 5-year-old with a wonderful smile whose picture might be found in the dictionary when you look up the words “sweet little boy.”
Malachi’s first priority Saturday was not to find something for himself, but his little sister, age 4. Specifically, he sought out “a baby doll” in the store to give her.
This episode gave even me, a hardened journalist, a warm feeling inside.
Then later in the day, I encountered another local youngster who abundantly qualifies for the dictionary definition of “sweet little girl.”
Madison Gray, 9, opted not to have family members give her presents this Christmas, but to re-direct anything that would have been spent on her toward a project by Madison to help local senior citizens. She originally wanted to give them blankets, but settled on a massive array of stuffed animals because a department store lacked enough blankets to go around.
While most kids likely were concerned about their own Christmas happiness, Madison devoted her Saturday afternoon to delivering the gifts to residents of a local assisted-living facility along with candy canes, hugs and smiles all around.
Madison and Malachi embodied the spirit of giving, and I’m not talking about giving for giving’s sake. Such as the “every kiss begins with Kay” version that perpetuates the never-ending sickening pampering of certain individuals who probably possess enough jewelry already.
What I’m talking about is a type of giving that actually makes a difference in others’ lives, whether it’s a family member such as Malachi’s sister, or complete strangers in Madison’s case.
This brand of giving can meet a worldly need such as food or clothing, or something less material but just as valuable: reaching out to someone to show them that you care and they are not forgotten.
Their families rightfully can be proud of these young people, who also should be an inspiration to others — although in reality I know this won’t happen and most everybody else will continue on their selfish ways.
At the very least, those two “elves” salvaged Christmas 2017 for a cynical journalist.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.