By Pam Linn

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Mending hearts with Christmas cheer

It seems my column about Christmas gift giving struck a chord with some readers. A dissonant chord for shopkeepers and economy watchers; a somewhat more pleasing note for fellow tree huggers.

Ecology aside, there is an almost universal feeling that as a people, we’ve gotten our priorities skewed. It’s a season of giving all right, but mostly to raise the corporate bottom line. I’m afraid our annual paean to glitz began many years before it became politically incorrect to acknowledge religious holidays publicly. We ban the crèche, the menorah from the public square and put up a brightly lit tree that offends others.

Gift giving at the time of the winter solstice was going on long before the birth of Christ, and persists in traditions of lighting candles, feasting and singing to ward off the long winter nights to come.

This business of morphing Christmas into The Holidays may be inclusive but it’s slightly absurd. Happy Holiday could mean anything from July Fourth to Guy Fawks Day. Must we abolish Father Christmas and old St. Nick in favor of Santa Claus and his bag of toys?

That said, the Christian belief that gift giving came from the story of the Magi, or three wise men following the star shining in the East to bring gold, and unpronounceable gems and minerals to the Baby Jesus, is a lovely myth. It was the stuff of children’s Nativity plays, now excluded from public schools where the singing of traditional Christmas carols has been bumped by Frosty the Snowman. A chorus to the abominable one?

Anyway, the idea of Christmas as a time for generosity and love transcends the season. The giving of precious gifts to a newborn, however holy, might otherwise be expressed as generosity of spirit. If the Baby Jesus was born to rid us of sin, why not remember him by forgiving each other our accumulated transgressions? How much more delicious the Christmas pudding if shared with someone who has lived in a world of hurt, over-perceived slights and unresolved feelings.

I’d venture to say every family has at least one member who dreads the family dinner; a mother-in-law, an aunt, a sibling who just can’t face the tension and finds excuses to stay away. Or maybe there’s someone who shows up only to spoil it for everyone else with too many gifts, too much eggnog, spreading guilt instead of joy.

What would it take to extend one more invitation even if we know Auntie will refuse? It wouldn’t hurt to ask again. Write a long letter full of happy memories even if we have to go a long way back to find them. If that’s too tough, and for some it surely would be, find a card that says what we wish we could say. My son does this every Mother’s Day. I read it and weep because I know he’ll never be able to say those things on his own no matter how much he wishes he could. Cowboys can do this only with a guitar in one hand, a pint on the table and Old Blue snoozing by the fire. Hallmark is just the translation.

In our extended family, with relatives spread over three continents, I’ll break the ice this year with long rambling remembrances. I should have done it years ago. I’ve already reached out and touched someone I wasn’t sure wanted to hear from me. We wound up talking for two hours and I learned a lot. I long thought our estrangement of three decades was her problem. And maybe it was at the beginning. But I surely could have bridged the gap before this. The ball’s in my court now and I won’t drop it.

So, come Christmas, let our voices ring in yuletide carols to cheer a heavy heart and raise our glasses to warm a frost. I’m sure Baby Jesus would approve.