Monday, December 22, 2008

Celebrating the Holidays Early--Gotta Make That the Plan!

Each year, the holiday season--Christmastime, to the vast majority of Americans, myself included--seems to arrive sooner. I'm never ready. No matter how much shopping for gifts I've done ahead of time, there's still those last few to find and wrap. The menu doesn't get planned out, so hopefully the pantry's well-stocked for those forgotten-but-critical items needed after even Wal-Mart closes its doors on Christmas Eve. Decorations still need to be put up. And for someone creative like myself, the deadline for completing those hand-made gifts looms like the proverbial freight train at the end of the tunnel. Don't forget, either, the visits to friends and family spread out across several states--even though both Beth and I enjoy spending Christmas at home together.

Beth and I came up with what we thought was a pretty good idea to help address these stress-inducing holiday problems a couple of years ago: celebrate on the Winter Solstice. That leaves us Christmas itself to spread out, round-robin, amongst the family we want to visit.

Too, for the pair of us atheists, it helps divorce our own celebrations from a Christian holiday. Not that we object at all to "Merry Christmas" or decorating our "Christmas tree," mind you (we're not soliders in the religious right's preceived "War on Christmas" at all, and we both absolutely love Christmas time!)--but we would like to have people realize our celebrations aren't so much for the birth of the central figure in their mythology but rather to enjoy the spirit of giving and of family and companionship that this time of year brings.

(To go off on a brief tangent, if the average Christian were honest with himself, he'd realize that "Christmas" as practiced by 99.99% of Americans is an absolutely secular holiday with but a passing nod to the birth of Jesus--who, if he existed at all, almost certainly wasn't born anywhere near December 25th, the date chosen by the Church to try winning over converts who observed the Roman Saturnalia or various other "pagan" celebrations set around the time of the Winter Solstice. Charlie Brown's decades-old lament about the commercialization of Christmas should be truer for Christian observants today than ever!)

Anyway, though we've talked up that notion before, we've yet to actually incorporate it into our holiday planning. As was the case the past two years, a major gift to several family members is going to be my bird book, which highlights the best of my bird photography for the past year.  Let me tell you something: putting that book together is NOT easy! I thought I'd made good progress this year well ahead of schedule, as I had done a good two-thirds of the layouts by September, leaving room for the inevitable photos I'd get on several fall business trips to the west coast. Alas, despite several late nights and a day taken off work, I still got the book off to the publishers about two hours past the cutoff for Christmas delivery (though there's still the chance they'll ship today, I guess). And there are gifts I've still to make for others: artwork to be done, cards to be designed, and photos to be presented.

Perhaps if we really set the Solstice as our deadline to celebrate, we'd not be running right up to Christmas. Next year?

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