by Victoria Moran, HHC, AADP, RYT
posted Dec 1, 2020
Arguably my favorite song of the season is “We Need a Little Christmas” from the musical Mame. The eponymous lead character is an eccentric, intellectually curious New York City socialite who says things like “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.”
Then comes the crash of 1929. Mame struggles to keep the household together for the sake of her adopted nephew, Patrick. She fails as both a switchboard operator and a Macy’s sales clerk, gives her last quarter to a Salvation Army Santa, and in a nearly empty apartment with a sad-looking tree, she sings Jerry Herman’s delightful lyrics:
“…For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet…
“For I’ve grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older
And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
Need a little Christmas now….” (c) Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
I think a lot of us are feeling like Mame (whose life does turn around, by the way). As a country, and a world, we’ve been through a year for the record books. We’re still in it, and it won’t automatically transform at 12:00 a.m. on January 1st. But something we can count on is that Christmas is coming — preceded by Hanukkah and followed by Boxing Day, Kwaanza, New Year’s, and Epiphany, with Orthodox Christmas and New Year’s shortly after that.
Perhaps the desire we have for holiday magic, extra and early, is the reason that, when I went to lower the window shades the evening after Thanksgiving, I noticed that several neighbors in the building across the courtyard had already put lights in their windows: snowflakes, stars, and a neon train filled with toys. (I think every year that maybe they’re animal people who don’t like the idea of reindeer hitched to a sleigh.) I did think they were jumping the gun a bit, but the next morning I saw that the people across the hall had hung a wreath. Everyone seems to be saying, “We need a little Christmas.”
Celebration is about great expectations. Those are easy to come by when things are going great and everyone you love will be together. It’s tough when circumstances inspire emotions that aren’t even in the ballpark of “merry.” But like Mame, I think we have to claim whatever merriment we can get our hands on. Just as Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season in the U.S., I think the whole “holiday spirit” starts with gratitude. For me this year, that includes gratitude for being healthy, doing work in the world that I believe in (and that can be done from home), and that my family members are healthy and safe, even though the only ones I’ll see in three dimensions this year are my husband, our dog, Forbes, and our rescue pigeon, Thunder.
The next essential of “holiday spirit” is giving. Giving grows out gratitude: from recognizing all we have springs the desire, even the need, to give. This will be a smaller, tidier Christmas than most, but I do want every gift I give to be thoughtful. I want to think of the person for whom it’s intended, let myself feel happy that they’re on earth the same as me, and imagine their reaction when they open the present.
And of course there’s also charitable giving. I used to feel annoyed that December was when so many good causes made their appeals. Gift buying and charitable giving seemed like a lot to expect of a person in a single month. I see it differently this year. I’m so grateful to be alive and able to give, I want to show up for causes I believe in the same way I want to show up for people I believe in. The amount isn’t the point. The caring is.
The third aspect of holiday spirit for me is willingness to experience joy. Joy won’t force its way in. A person can have holidays surrounded by everyone they love and get every item on their wish list plus the warranty plan, and still be miserable. In the same way, we can figure out how to be joy-filled in the midst of circumstances we wouldn’t have ordered if life were a menu. Obviously, in cases of grief or severe hardship, nobody needs to be told what they’re supposed to feel, only that they’re loved. But even in tough years like this one, most people are not in straits that dire. We fortunate ones need to push back against self-pity, what-ifs, and fearful imaginings, and show up as joyfully as we possibly can for everyone around us, and for those we can help. And we need to summon joy for ourselves. That’s no more selfish than eating breakfast: if you’re not nourished, you can’t serve.
I haven’t completely worked out yet just how I’ll conjure up Christmas magic. I haven’t spent a December in New York without going to Macy’s and luxuriating in all those wonderful signs that say, “Believe.” I may not get to do that this year, but I can watch Miracle on 34th Street. I like doing traditional things — the annual reading of “The Night Before Christmas” at an Uptown church, followed by a walking caravan to the grave of Clement Clarke Moore … The Radio City Christmas Spectacular … Either a Messiah or a Nutcracker. Those won’t be options in 2020, but going to an outdoor holiday market is possible, and indulging in vegan nog, and decking the halls to (almost) Clark Griswold proportions.
And when the planning and the prepping have been done, it’s my cue to rest and retreat for all 12 days of Christmas. It’s my only real time off of the year and I use it to focus on what’s transpired and what’s coming next. How can I be more effective? How can I help more than I have? How can I best grow my soul and my character? How can I love better?
For all these reasons, I need a little Christmas, and I’m pleased as Christmas punch that it’s on its way.
Victoria Moran is host of the Main Street Vegan Podcast, director of Main Street Vegan Academy, and author of 13 books including Creating a Charmed Life, Shelter for the Spirit, Younger by the Day, Main Street Vegan, and The Main Street Vegan Academy Cookbook with coauthor JL Fields. Check them out on Victoria’s Amazon Author Page or your favorite indie bookshop.
The link to the song (top of page) is from the Broadway musical with Angela Lansbury. You can add more joy to season by watching movie’s musical version with Lucille Ball, The original film with Rosalind Russell is my favorite movie of all time.