Happy Holidays!

No, I’m not declaring a “War on Christmas!” Don't get me wrong. I love this season with all the lights, decorations, and songs. I have so many fond family memories of decorating the Christmas tree with my siblings and father -- laughing and squabbling. And baking cookies with my mother -- "don't forget to burn one tray because your father likes the burnt ones."

Anymore, the Christmas or Holiday season can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Halloween candy is still on the shelves when the Christmas decorations go up. The race begins on Black Friday (or earlier) to get the best gifts, the most gifts at the lowest price. There are lights to be strung, songs to be sung, and decorations to be hung. These days I see a holiday that has become over-commercialized.

The world I grew up in is so different from the world I now live in. People come from many diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. Not everyone celebrates the holiday, and if they do they bring different rituals and customs to it. So I don’t make assumptions and I don’t automatically wish everyone I encounter, “Merry Christmas!” But I may inquire how they will spend the holiday season. One of our biggest strengths comes from our ability to learn from people who are different than we are.

For me as a child – gifts and Santa aside – one of the best things about Christmas was going into Manhattan with my father for a day, seeing the tree in Rockefeller Center and walking with him down Fifth Avenue and looking in the store windows decorated with Christmas themes. This was a special place and it was magical. Oh, and for Barbara and I that magic came alive this summer when we entered Barnes and Nobel on Fifth Avenue to see The Big Book of HR displayed as a “Top Pick in Business.” It was Christmas in August!

Even cultures that celebrate Christmas, have different traditions. Some cultures that I didn’t think of as celebrating Christmas, have traditions associated with it. I was surprised when I visited China in December 2008 to see Christmas decorations and hear Christmas music playing. Religion aside, for me the month leading up to Christmas is filled with wonder and light -- the excitement before the gloomy days and nights of January and February. It's a reflective period, one of hope and compassion. Whether you celebrate Christmas, another holiday, or no holiday at all, do you take any meaning from this time leading up to a new calendar year? Are those meanings reflected in any of your traditions?

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss)

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