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“'Tis the season for giving” they say, and yet I am puzzled by this, wondering why exactly. I personally believe that giving is important no matter the season, however this particular time of year (insert your favorite Winter holiday here) seems to be considered something particularly special, in both Western religious and secular traditions, when it comes to giving. I'm sure one could play the cynic and say that it is simply the result of modern consumerism run amok, but this would be short-sighted. This time of year has been seen as a time for giving for far longer than the age of Western-style capitalism; while Christmas may have the monopoly here in America in terms of mass mindshare, many traditions have their own holidays which take place on or around roughly the same day. Christmas itself took many of its influences from previously existing celebrations (including the Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia among others) which also included the giving of gifts. That's all interesting (or perhaps not, fair enough), but it still begs the question - “why now?”

 

“'Tis the season to be jolly” they sing, and yet again I am puzzled, wondering how it is even possible. Everyone is stressed out about money and tracking down that last gift before it's too late; this is (of course) after the human demolition derby that is Black Friday, mind you. The cognitive dissonance is baffling; it seems to me that if we really were jolly then giving wouldn't be a source of stress at all. But we're not jolly – because we're not giving. Most of us are actually rushing to ensure that our obligations to purchase something shiny for everyone we know are met for the year, even if we don't realize it. By this point, Christmas music has been playing non-stop and decorations have been put up, both of them since literally the day after Halloween, and the mental programming is relentless. Obviously this is a stress that we really can chalk up largely to the commercial pressures of Western consumerism, but again I ask, “why now?”

 

One possible answer is that (at least for those in the northern hemisphere, who live away from the Earth's equator) this time is when we are at our most emotionally vulnerable; much like Superman, we humans also, to a certain extent, gain our powers from the sun. As Autumn really starts setting in, the decrease in sunlight causes our bodies to produce less serotonin, a key neurotransmitter for stabilizing our moods. Psychiatrists have labeled the sense of melancholy that results as “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, and yet even though I am afflicted with this depression, I do not understand why it is considered a disorder; yes it's unpleasant, but the human body is simply reacting naturally to less light and colder temperatures. Add on to this a sense of alienation: the bottom-line driven “corporate marketing machine”TM makes constant demands that we be cheerful, while perpetuating a double-bind which only serves to ensure that we're so miserable that we endlessly, and fruitlessly attempt to fill our emotional voids with our credit cards. The result? A recipe for the “most wonderful time of the year” - one which for many people is also the loneliest.

 

How are we supposed to cope with all of this? Well it's no coincidence that these holidays of giving and feasts and merriment often tend to fall on or around December 21st, the Winter Solstice (again in the Northern hemisphere). In days far gone by, before electricity, before the abundance of cheap – well, cheap everything, this night—the longest of the year—represented the worst that humanity could possibly endure. Pick your poison: darkness, wild animals, freezing temperatures, starvation, and—for many—a sense of loneliness on par with the death of a loved one. But our ancestors also knew that while this one night was often fraught with a deep, hellish despair for many, it was also generally the worst that these things could get before they started improving; after the Solstice the light would return, the weather would warm, and the fields would grow.

 

But for the moment, people needed each other in the worst way, and so they would come together as family. Those who had extra would share with those who had little or none. They would spread their cheer to those caught in the mire of despair, not chiding them for it, but rather acknowledging that it was okay to feel this way in harsh times, and that they would soon pass. This is the true spirit of most Winter holidays. This is why it has been deemed the season for giving and being jolly; those who can, give to those in need to help them endure the emotional turmoil of the darkest times just a bit longer, until things finally start to turn around. This is the true spirit of any “giving” holiday, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, etc., not shopping, but giving. However, in our modern—and paradoxically, ever-more disconnected—online age, it should come as no surprise to us that the Winter Solstice is no longer always the loneliest night of the year for everyone – it could be tonight, or it could be three weeks from now. The longest night is always right now for somebody, let us never forget that.

 

Thank you, and may the Force be with you all.