I’m thinking about what we wish for each other at Christmas — peace and joy — and how rare the opportunity is to offer each other such wishes.
At this time of year it is usual to send ‘wishes’ to people. In this post I want to spend a little time examining this wishing.
Firstly, I want to think about the wishes. Excessively saccharine? Often. Seeming to make little difference to the conflict in our world and families? True. And so: why do we do this?
One answer is social pressure. We don’t want to be ostracised from the group (at work, or in our families). Perhaps this applies to groups where we aren’t so well known. By now my family are used to my not sending cards or doing presents. Not participating in ‘Secret Santa’ at work might be a bigger deal. (‘Secret Santa’: I don’t know whether other countries do it, but each in a group puts their name in a hat, and each person pulls out a name and buys a Christmas present for that person. The amount to be spent on a present is agreed in advance. In this way everyone gets a present and there is less fuss about how much, who gets one and who doesn’t and so on. I like the idea of a ‘Secret Santa’ a lot.)
I think there is another reason too. This is that we don’t often get socially validated chances to express appreciation and the softer emotions. The rhetoric in our Western societies tends to be about competition, efficiency, moving forward, surging ahead and so on. In this rhetoric there isn’t much value given to giggling or affection — and too often I think we go along with the rhetoric.
I think the way these soft emotions are expressed are often cringeful. But that’s what you’d expect when we don’t have the chance to practise much. (This doesn’t make it any less nauseating.)
My idea is that there is some genuine longing in our culture to express the positive and softer sides of ourselves. And Christmas gives permission to express this.
One ritual to toughen up complimenting (you need to do this with people you trust) is to exchange three likes and three dislikes. This puts a limit and means that the focus isn’t on the negative or the positive. It can help the compliments feel genuine. This needs to be with people you know well enough to have something meaningful to say. If you want to do it with a group, it can’t be too big or it will take too long. (I’ve been in groups of up to 12 where it has worked fine.)
Secondly there is the content of the wishes. Can we take them seriously?
It seems to me that peace and joy are excellent to experience and reliable guides to a worthwhile life. By peace I mean the sense that we are acting with all of who we are — without fretting and internal conflict. By joy I mean an elated calmness, not manic but grounded.
To find peace and joy I think we need (probably very gradually) to get to know those parts of us which we judge negatively (sometimes called ‘our shadow’). This usually isn’t easy (who wants to look at what they don’t want to look at?) and can often require consistent support over quite a few months. For myself, and others who have done this, it has been more than worthwhile.
Does this have much to do with consumerism and crass commercialism? Nope. But I think these are just symptoms — they may need managing, but attacking them won’t fix the problem. I think the basic problem is a lack of peace and joy. A lack of real emotional contact with those we love, a dearth of work in which we can find, and through which we can express, our joy.
My Christmas Wish: May you have peace and joy this Christmas and throughout the New Year.
If you could make a genuine Christmas wish, what would it be? Let me know in the comments.
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