Given the fear and uncertainty that is sweeping the country, hope may be in short supply these days. But the holidays, however we celebrate them, can provide a respite from the worry and despair that beset us. It is a time when kindness becomes fashionable and charity, a byword. We have the urge to give and share; to feed the hungry and comfort the lonely.
The world can be magical this time of year. Sometimes, when I happen to be out on Christmas Eve, I find that everything is silent. The shopping is done or simply given up as hopeless. The cards have been sent and maybe even returned–marked “returned to sender; address unknown.” The children are “nestled all snug in their beds” …or not. It is a stillness that reminds me of the Karen Carpenter song: “There’s a kind of hush all over the world…” Those lyrics are about romantic love but in my mind they translates to the universal love of which all of us are capable.
It is true that the holidays have become mercilessly commercialized. Holiday music begins earlier; advertising promises monumental savings even while busting our budgets to smithereens; holiday cheer becomes ever more enticing even though we know that these can be some of the loneliest days of the year. But still there is a song, a melody that keeps playing underneath the chaos and confusion. I believe it is a song about love. Perhaps it is the celebration of a miraculous birth that changed history. Or the escape from oppression and the restoration of a sacred site. It may be a harvest festival and the veneration of cultural values.
Having been raised a Christian I had not been aware of the marvelous values that the Kwanzaa festival celebrates. The seven principles it teaches would benefit any culture or community. They include unity: striving for and maintaining unity in the family, community, nation, and race; self-determination: defining ourselves, naming ourselves, creating for ourselves, and speaking for ourselves; collective work and responsibility: building and maintaining our community together and making our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and solving them together; cooperative economics: building and maintaining our own stores, shops, and other businesses and profiting from them together; purpose: making our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness; creativity: doing always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it; faith: believing with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Perhaps you have heard of the sign posted in the window of a Muslim-owned restaurant in London which reads: “No one eats alone on a Christmas Day! We are here to sit with you. . . . Any homeless or elderly are welcomed.” Any other year, the restaurant’s offer of a free Christmas meal might have been quietly acknowledged as one in keeping with the holiday spirit of generosity. This year, however, it seems to have taken on extra meaning: The restaurant is owned and managed by Muslims, and its kind offer comes at a time when there have been many instances of Islamophobia in Britain. The handwritten note immediately struck a nerve. In the past three weeks, images of the sign have been liked and shared thousands of times. Hundreds of people have commented, praising the restaurant for its hospitable gesture in the face of the inhospitable environment for Muslims.
The holidays illuminate universal themes of community and generosity; a desire to help the less fortunate; a time to put selfishness aside. They give us hope that our “better angels” are still present and can somehow prevail. They give us the chance to invest in someone else’s happiness; listen attentively to our children; allow our young ones to believe in magic; foster their search for a bearded gentleman who spends all year preparing to fulfill their fondest dreams. They provide an opportunity to listen for a brief span of time to “a kind of hush all over the world” and hear the faint but persistent music of love.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.