'Tis the Season, Not the Spirit on the Hilltop

By: Martin Hussey

December 8, 2011

I'm not feeling much of the holiday spirit this year. Sure, I've admired the random star on top of Healy Hall, attended an ugly Christmas sweater party or two and hung up a measly strand of Christmas lights in my room, but somehow I'm just not in the holiday mood.

The problem might be the inordinate amount of time I've spent in a study carrel on the second floor of Lauinger Library, staring blankly at the same mildly inappropriate note, or it could be that I still haven't seen a single snowflake this holiday season and haven't felt cold enough to ditch my usual iced chai for a hot peppermint latte.

Unlike everyone else, I'm not feeling the fuzzy warmth of the holidays. Hopefully, once I'm racing down a ski slope or decorating my driveway with luminarias — small, traditional Hispanic lanterns — in my native New Mexico, I'll feel less like Mr. Scrooge. But for now, nothing, not even Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You," can get me in the spirit.

Many of my Christmas-loving friends have attributed my lack of holiday cheer to my lack of religion. True, the fact that I didn't have a religious upbringing and have never been to midnight mass (I'd rather look out for Santa), may make the holiday season less meaningful for me. But there are many other reasons that I have always enjoyed the season.

For one, Christmas has become a holiday much like the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving. Christmas isn't solely a religious holiday anymore; it's an American one. Sure, it has religious significance and origin, but our culture has largely removed the religious roots of the holiday. For many — myself included — Christmas is no longer about the birth of Christ, but rather about something we like to call "the spirit of giving." This secular meaning of the holiday is not lost on me in the slightest.

Though I have no religious context for Christmas, the "spirit of giving" that characterizes the holiday and the preceding month usually fills me with joy. Furthermore, everyone can enjoy Christmas songs, decorations and food, no matter their religion. This season is a time when people of all religions are more likely to give to charities or volunteer their time.

Second, even though Christmas is a religious holiday, the entire month preceding it is not, and is characterized by secular holiday celebrations like shopping, volunteering, decorating or baking. Even though we are ostensibly now in the holiday season with Christmas songs on the radio, decorations lining the streets and the smell of holiday cookies permeating hallways, these weeks maintain a cultural, rather than a religious, significance. To enjoy the season, religion is not a prerequisite. All you need are some decorations, a mug of hot cocoa and an ugly sweater.

So assuming I'm not some sort of secular Grinch, why is my Christmas spirit disappearing? I'd argue that it's my pre-final workload, filled with research papers, final presentations and catch-up work to wrap up the semester. For some reason, three simultaneous projects about such cheerful topics as desertification and famine in Africa don't stir up quite as much holiday cheer as you would think. Maybe once I leave the confines of this Lau study carrel, step outside, feel the crisp air and look up at the Healy star, I'll feel a small glimmer, a tiny twinge of holiday cheer.

But for now, I'll be moving onto the next article on JSTOR and trying to find a cozy spot in Lau, one without an inappropriate note carved into the desk.
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'Tis the Season, Not the Spirit on the Hilltop