Every year, when December rolls around, I get caught up in the stress of the month. I have to take exams; I have to buy gifts for people; I have to send Christmas cards; the list goes on.
I also worry that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost, as many of us define Christmas by the presents we buy and the gifts we receive. We are overwhelmed by advertisements and pressure to participate in sales disguised as "traditions." Dwelling on these details can turn a joyful month into misery.
So this year, I vowed to participate more. At the beginning of November, I turned on Christmas music. While working in the mall, seeing people shopping with their families and the full parking lots reminded me that this is actually a month of excitement, giving, traditions, travel and spending time with the ones you love.
A couple weeks ago, I lost my grandfather. My family and I were very close to him, and his death at age 90 affected us enormously. Still, his passing reminded me of the joyful family traditions that he established for our large, extended family.
One tradition is called the Graham Bowl, named after my mother's family. Every year, family members receive a ballot to pick the football teams we think will win each bowl game. Whoever predicts the most wins receives, for that year, a large silver bowl engraved with the names of the winning family members through the years.
During December, the family stays in contact discussing who is ahead in the competition and who they think the winners will be. On New Year's weekend, we all get together to watch the last of the bowl games and to crown a new winner.
In elementary and middle school, I spent the entire year counting down the days for the start of the Graham Bowl. I couldn't wait to spend time with my cousins. This was the one month of the year completely devoted to my extended family.
Another family tradition, which has ceased due to my grandparents' aging, is our Christmas Eve family dinner. We would eat a large dinner at my grandparents' house and then exchange gifts. What I enjoyed most about this time was catching up with family members and hearing stories about events that had happened throughout the year.
An uncle usually would act as "Santa" and pass out gifts. Afterward, the room would be covered with wrapping paper. This always defined Christmas to me.
This year, I have started a tradition for myself. Instead of focusing so much on what I want for Christmas, I am focusing on giving. It will be my gift to see the joy on the faces of my friends and family, when I surprise them with something that they were wishing for, and these acts will renew the hope that the Christmas story symbolizes.
I cherish the laughter, the memories, the time spent together sharing stories that these traditions bring.
This year, when I find myself feeling upset about the packed parking lots, commercials and the general rush, I will remind myself that this is a month of celebration, spirit and remembering the ones you love.
Contact Corin Harpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.