On a frantic pace toward peace

I stared at the 6-foot-tall, illuminated red, white and gold lawn snowman holding a large placard that announced, “37 days until Christmas.” I was in North Carolina, visiting family. Every time I passed this spiritual monstrosity, I had a panic attack. It was one week before Thanksgiving. Christmas trees lit up one house after another, in all their silvery glory, like the spread of some Shopping Network plague. It was going to be a glitzy Bible Belt Christmas.

Let me be politically incorrect by talking religion, for as the late Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” (She also said, “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” but never mind that right now.) I celebrate Christmas, and have a deep respect for other religions’ holidays. And I want to prepare myself for Christmas in a way that affords a few glorious days of electronics-free, stress-free “peace on earth” – or at least, peace in my mind, body and heart.

Every year, I dream of lazy cookie-making afternoons, inviting neighbors over for a light supper and hot chocolate, relaxed good times, wrapping a few gifts. The reality is, well, slightly different.

Christmas: That time of year when my pocketbook becomes a cesspool for coupons from dozens of stores I don’t even like. But 30 percent off (excluding roughly 20 major brands or anything that is an everyday price – or is that everything that is an anyday price)? And $10 off a $25 purchase? I get to the register feeling accomplished and yes, a little smug. I’ve shopped for three more people on my list, the list which is now glued to said awesome coupon by a piece of chewed gum, hopefully mine. I’m 14 cents short of the qualifying purchases in order to use the coupon. So it’s back to the racks.

Christmas: The time for online purchase computer glitches, notices of compromised credit cards, multiple calls to the Internet server, and overlapping phone calls and texts, making it impossible to resolve anything.

Christmas: A time of introspection, as I examine my conscience and wish that I hadn’t said what I said to the stranger on the phone who called to offer my deceased husband yet another exciting opportunity to donate money or to open a new line of credit.

Then there’s my own annual “Mission Impossible,” always with the same universal theme:

“Mom,” the voice says, “Can you check to see if there’s a (Latest Electronic Gadget) available in your area? Our stores are out, and the kids really want one.”

No self-respecting or even lack-of-respecting grandma would turn down this challenge. The next three weeks are spent adding this obsession to the ridiculous schedule of things to do to get ready for a calm, relaxing, spirit-filled holiday. Because nothing says devotion to the Lord like calling 10 stores a day in every one of the counties in Maine, waiting and wading through phone menus to ask a simple question, and always getting disconnected. I am no slouch as a grandma. I know that store computers get stressed, too, and don’t always know what’s available. One time, years ago, when I went someplace to buy a simple item like a toaster or a school bus or something, the computer said, “none left,” but it turned out there was one. So now, I drive to every store I’ve called. Just to check. On Day 21 of my search, I get a text: “Mom – all set – found item.”

Here’s something else I look forward to: The annual holiday greeting controversy. Really, people? What does it matter if someone wishes you a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, or any other well-intentioned greeting, including Happy Holidays? When, dear God, did it become a national requirement to choose teams? Don’t we get enough of that on Super Bowl Sunday? Shall we wear buttons stating our religious preference, then? I just can’t imagine the great Universal Love keeping score. Let it go, friends.

You can see why I seek spiritual enlightenment, love and forgiveness. With the stress of the season, the incoming and outgoing electronic glitches, products we convince ourselves make a difference, the greed, and the superficiality of our day? It gets to me. And I’d really, really like to pay attention to what’s important. Because as I sit here and contemplate the meaning of the holidays, my faith, and my life, one amazing and overriding fact comes from the core of my soul: There are only five shopping days left ’til Christmas.

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