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Christmas: Rites of a Journey

 article about Christmas: Rites of a Journey

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Christmas in not included in the traditional Rites of Passage, and should not be considered among them. The chief reason for this is that it is not a singular event; the participants may participate yearly for as long as they wish. But, unlike a unique and not to be repeated rite of passage, the journey of Christmases will not be punctuated throughout its entirety by pivotal events akin to the discovery that Santa was a scam.

Assuming a normal lifespan and a normally developed mind, the journey of Christmases is nonetheless a journey during which several passages, from one level of development to the next are made. Many, perhaps most people, being pronouncedly averse to introspection, are unaware of the journey, much less of the meaning of the passages.

As dawn brightens on the developing child, the ego-self who is charting the new found territories of being separate from yet together with others, the child notes regularities in the significant others and the environment around him, often blurring the two domains but nevertheless developing Pavlovian expectations of these stimuli. Near Christmas time, the parents, by this time having learned the craftsmanship of deception, weave the cultural construct of Santa Claus (North America), La Befana (the Good Witch of parts of Italy), or whatever cultural icon is appropriate into a blend of gift giver cum parental colleague. The child is encouraged by various sources to identify a lack (the specific gift, or class of gifts) which can be filled only from outside (through the bringer/giver of such gifts). Although the child may be recruited into the blend of gift givers when "giving" to siblings, parents, or playmates, its focus is on itself.

Then, at some point, a passage involving the adoption of a particular attitude occurs. The child comes to see the giving of gifts to others as: 1. A means of making someone else happy; 2. A means of avoiding a social imbalance, "evening the score"; or, 3. A means of manipulating others by indebting them to him.

While all three of the above attitudes may be blended into the act of giving, the predominant attitude will express much about the socialization of the child to that point. Indeed, we here have the opportunity to observe the formation of a fundamental dynamic of what will be the interpersonal negotiation ethic of the adult personality. Who has not, at some point, "happened" to be in a store where a gift we received is sold, and "accidentally" saw the price? Was the balance of gift exchange satisfactorily equal, or did someone get stiffed? Does the financial status of the giver factor into the balance of trade?

The "Good Will" of Christmas time may fall far from the tree. While other young men were unwrapping their presents, I was unwrapping their sisters. But, all in the spirit of being jolly. Ho, ho, ho had a different meaning then.

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A dollar in a Salvation Army bucket seems so remote, so impersonal.
The ongoing journey of Christmases may include becoming a parent. Here again, those formative younger years arise. Are the gifts given to children merely offerings to "achieve peace in our time"? Are they given in the spirit of competition with other parents, whose children may conceivably come into social contact with ours? Or are the gifts carefully thought out as thrilling quantum expansions of the child's realm of possibilities?

Perhaps the last passage on the journey of Christmases is the one least reached by many. For decades there have been various agencies involved in ringing bells outside stores, erecting collection points at stores and businesses, and soliciting money or gifts in various ways. A dollar in a Salvation Army bucket seems so remote, so impersonal. And, on some level, one might wonder how much of the dollar, in whatever form, reaches the presumed recipient.

Can it be that a hardened adult can, for just a moment, recapture that heartfelt joy of seeing a small child's face open in wonder and imagination as the child opens a present that beckons it to a dimension beyond the mundane, and often miserable here and now?

Whether I physically see it is irrelevant. But, this Christmas, and all those I have left yet to come, I will "see" that face some days after I have carefully searched for a stimulating toy, a mind expanding children's book, a never before thought of possibility and carefully wrapped it for my local Toys for Tots program.

Funny, the road gets wider the further you go.


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