One of my favorite authors ever is the American short story writer William Sydney Porter, better known by his nom de plume of O. Henry. Even if you haven't read his work, you've almost certainly seen some adaptation of one of his most famous stories, The Gift of the Magi. The story is simple. A young wife, Della, crushed that she has practically nothing with which to buy her beloved husband Jim a Christmas gift, decides to sell her greatest treasure-her long, beautiful hair-in order to buy a chain worthy of his prized pocket watch. She makes this sacrifice gladly in her excitement to present something special to the one person she loves most. When presented with the gift and a newly shorn wife, however, Jim is dumbstruck; he's sold his watch to buy a set of long-coveted hair combs to adorn the now-missing tresses of his beloved wife. Were they foolish? Perhaps. But what resonates about the story isn't about the gifts themselves. Both selflessly sacrificed their greatest treasures in the pursuit of making the other happy, illustrating the point of the season: to give selflessly and do what you can in the pursuit of bringing joy to those you love.
I've been thinking about this story a lot the past few days. As is usual for this time of year, my little subterranean office looks like an elf snuck in and exploded Christmas everywhere. Every surface is covered with candies, cookies, and craft parts; every corner heaped with rolls of paper and piles of packages, some incoming, most outgoing. Sorting bins and multiple dry erase boards of battle plans help soothe my harried brain, as does the fact that the last of the Christmas boxes (both directions) are finally on their way. Two weeks of writer's block, three inboxes of temporarily ignored email, and a stack of unfinished editing drafts, however, do not. Nor do deadlines that loom and pass unfulfilled while the to-do list seems to grow at an exponential rate. As I gaze about the carefully controlled chaos, I wonder again, as I do every year, why I don't take the easy way out. Screw the stress, gift cards for all. Be done with travel plans forever. Buy some holiday cookies from the bakery, and to hell with the tree. There are moments I can very much relate to the Grinch's sentiments at the beginning of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The whole season is a lot of work, on top of the lot of work I normally undertake. It's a lot of stress. It's a lot of noise. I completely understand why so many people get overwhelmed and depressed this time of year. And I hate feeling that way.
But at the same time, I can't picture a life without some form of a Christmas season. Despite the bitching by some about the secularization of the holiday, I like that it's evolved to become a festival of sorts that everyone I know - Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, that one guy from college who practices Buddhism - celebrates in some way. There's something to be said for coming together collectively during the darkest days of the year to spread lights, shut down normal production for a week or two, gather together where you can and ship packages of joy to those you can't be with in the flesh - physical reminders of the place they hold in your heart.