Even though it’s not one of “my” holidays, Christmas has been one of my favorite holidays for as long as I can remember.
Although I don’t celebrate Christmas with a tree and midnight mass, I celebrate it each year in my way. Sometimes that’s by volunteering, other times it’s by gathering with family and friends, or perhaps seeing a movie and eating Chinese food. In whatever way I celebrate, I treat Christmas like the holy-day that it is.
When I say I love Christmas, I’m not talking about the Rockefeller Center tree, or the store windows, or the crowds of people who clog midtown at this time of year.
Although I love a beautiful Christmas tree, I could easily do without the rush and crowding that defines the “holiday season” in New York.
What I Love About Christmas
What I love about Christmas, and what I choose to celebrate, is an intangible quality of the holiday, the experience of being in a place where Christmas is observed.
As the stores finally shut their doors and turn off the lights, as the people clear from the streets and retreat into their homes, a magic fills the air.
It is the magic of the city that never sleeps coming into stillness.
It is the magic of silence blanketing the streets, bringing a hushed reverence to the concrete jungle.
Only a few restaurants and grocery stores open. A handful of other businesses open, many with reduced schedules.
Christmas is the last remaining universally sacred day.
A day when we honor rest.
Why Christmas is Different
Technically, for me, Christmas just another day off. In theory, Christmas is no different from Presidents’ Day or Labor Day.
But Christmas is different from other days off.
Notably, what doesn’t happen on Christmas is what consumes much of the weekend time for most Americans — at least most New Yorkers:
It seems that there is a never ending list of errands to run and tasks to check off our lists. We structure our free time to the minute, just like our work time. All in an effort to get it all done.
Errands are not rest. In fact, because they scatter our energy and focus in more places, errands can be more draining than work.
On Christmas, nobody runs around doing errands because the stores are closed. We spend time with friends and family, or in solitude. We walk at a slower pace.
It doesn’t mean we don’t go out. Each year on Christmas I make my annual pilgrimage to the Upper West Side — the location of the only branch of my gym that opens on Christmas Day. The gym is crowded. People are out in the streets and in the subways.
But the energy is different.
It is not rushed or frantic.
We savor the day.
We Come Out of the Trance
On many days, we walk around in a trance: of fear, of needing to “get somewhere” or “do something.’ We rush from one thing to the next, hardly taking time to smile, let alone to compliment a stranger.
On Christmas, as we slow down, the masks that separate us from others fall off.
We are kinder. More attentive and aware. More mindful.
On Christmas, we create spaciousness to acknowledge other people. To remember our shared humanity.
We create space for being.
In this space, we return home to our true nature.
And when we can rest in the truth of our hearts, we see each other as humans first.
Why I Celebrate Christmas
Christmas, for me, is not about religion, but about values.
Acting with kindness and compassion.
Mindfulness and awareness.
Coming home to ourselves.
Recognizing our shared humanity.
To me, these are things worth celebrating.