Merry Christmas!

In our family, Christmas is a prelude to the bigger holiday, New Years Day, given our ties to Japanese culture.

I also think that New Years Day — especially in Japanese culture — is aspirational, similar to Thanksgiving, since we look forward to things to come: in one case, the good cheer of the Holiday season, and in the other, a new year to realize our hopes and dreams.

Then what is Christmas? Today’s New York Times Op-Ed asks how one would explain Christmas to someone who knew nothing about it:

You might begin with the shepherds in the fields by night or Santa at the North Pole. You would probably have something to say about the importance of family and the force of a holiday whose strongest emotions center upon children, and upon our memories of being children.

And yet to really explain Christmas you would also have to try to answer the question that seems more pressing every year: how do those emotions and memories connect to the frenzied commercial machinery of the weeks that lead up to Christmas?

What does all that retailing and wrapping paper have to do with peace on earth? It is that all those presents did not really catch the feeling we were looking for, did not say what we hoped to say.

A stranger might well wonder, don’t you always hope for peace on earth? Does good will really have a season? And if you genuinely love one another — truly hold one another in your hearts — wouldn’t simply saying it be far more eloquent than any other gift that you could give?

These questions point to something most of us already know, that for all the push and pull of the Christmas rush, for all the sputtering of the commercial volcano that erupts at the end of every year, this is truly a holiday of modest spirit, a day of humble aspirations. What we want is to love and know we are loved and to imagine a world that lives up to the purity of that feeling.

A Merry Christmas to everyone!

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