Finding the holiday spark that is Christmas


CHICAGO, December 16, 2014 — The season is upon us again, whether we like it or not. Some of us embrace the holidays with warm hearts, looking forward to decorating our homes, baking cookies with the kids and devoting a few minutes to thinking about each individual family member and friend while mulling over the gift list.

Then there are those who are perfectly happy to embrace their inner Scrooge, those who have no intention of wasting money to live in a winter fairyland for a month, see no need to bake when the store shelves are filled with Oreos, if not Twinkies, and would just as soon forget their pain-in-the-butt family along with the inherent familial obligations.

But folks on both sides of the holiday aisle, let’s call them the extremists, have it easier than those stuck in the middle. The extremists know where they stand and are quite content to be there. All too often, however, the middle-grounders are on uneasy turf.

They want to reach out and join the celebrators, but the amount of effort required is daunting. Or they wish they could just ignore it altogether, but they know their loved ones would be disappointed if they simply ignored the joy around them. Or, as is usually the case, a little of both.

It’s not easy being bi-partisan. So what are the middle-grounders to do?

The celebrators seem to be happier, and we all want to be a little happier, right? So let’s agree to lean that way a little. We don’t have to drink the Christmas Kool-Aid to admit that cold winter nights seem a little warmer since the neighbors put their Christmas lights up. We also don’t have to clean flour and sugar off the floor and walls when we know nothing beats Aunt Katie’s  cookies, anyway.

But what do we do when surrounding ourselves with the biggest tree, the familiar songs, the sappy movies, and the love of family still leave us with a gray hole inside?

The old adage that it’s better to give than to receive plays a part. Doing something for someone else makes us feel better about ourselves. But don’t believe for a second that bigger is better. The joy in your kid’s eyes when he opens that new game console is great, but so is the relief in the eyes of the person holding one item in line behind you at the grocery store when you tell them to please, go in front of you. Both are appreciated; both feed your soul. Both alleviate a little bit of the gray. Only one comes with a credit card bill next month.

It may not seem right to compare a $300+ game console with an act of kindness, but that’s not the point. Stop making comparisons and enjoy the joy of both.

The joy and the obligations are both there. The joy is just harder to find, even with St. Nick smiling at you from every store window. That smile may simply be a dreaded reminder of all of the presents you still have to buy. But once that thought has crossed your mind, look again. Just for a moment, let that smile touch your heart.

There it is. There’s that little spark in the gray. It may not get any bigger than that, but that’s not important. What’s important is that it’s there, and you found it.

How? It wasn’t the decorations or the cookies or even Santa’s smile. You found it because you chose to look for it. You chose the tiniest spark over the deepest gray. It’s as easy, and as difficult, as that.

Merry Christmas to you, from you.

Julia Goralka often has a hard time finding the spark, and not just at Christmas. That’s how she knows just how precious it is.

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