Monday, December 24, 2012
December 24, 2012: Making My List (Again), Part One
[Last year around the holidays, I shared a few items on my AmericanStudier wish list, things I hope Americans could do and be. In this most wonderful time of the year™, I wanted to do the same with a handful of new wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves. Please share your own wishes and hopes, and I’ll add ‘em to the weekend’s post and make sure the Elves get ‘em too. Thanks, and happy holidays!]
On the Christmas Eve attitude I hope we can all find a way to embrace more fully.
It’s a cliché, but having spent these last five Christmas Eves with boys who were old enough to know what was coming, I can say with certainty that it’s one of the most accurate clichés out there: nothing exemplifies excitement and anticipation like a kid on Christmas Eve. I know the boys would disagree, and so would my youthful self, but honestly I think that the excitement is the best part of the holiday—better than the presents themselves, better even than the family togetherness (that’s good, but hopefully not unique to the holiday), and definitely better than the inevitable letdown when all is opened and moving back toward normal. To me, the magic of Santa is likewise caught up in the anticipation, and the traditions that go with it—hanging stockings, putting out the milk and cookies, preparing the house in that time before anything has happened and when it’s all still in the future to which we look forward so excitedly.
I don’t want to speak for everybody here—or at least, as always, I’d love to hear your own thoughts, even (no, especially) if they entirely disagree with mine—but I think we’ve largely lost the possibility for that kind of anticipation, as a society. Obviously it’s always been and always would be harder for adults to feel such pure excitement than for kids, given all the things we carry around in our heads and lives, the hopes and pressures, the responsibilities and worries, the memories and baggage. But I also feel as if the constant stream of bad or threatening news, the very real effects of recession and climate change and political and cultural and social divisions, the way in which any triumph or positive moment seems immediately and inevitably greeted by a backlash of naysaying and anonymous internet trolling, just so many aspects of our 21st century moment make it very hard to feel, or at least to keep, an individual (much less a communal) sense of anticipation and excitement about what the future might bring.
And that’s a very bad thing. I’ve written many, many times here about my current book project on hope, and at the end of the day that’s what hope is: anticipation and excitement that the future might be good, might be better, might be what it ideally could be. So AmericanStudies Elves, today’s wish is that we can find a way, as a nation, to get back to Christmas Eve-level anticipation and excitement about the future, at least sometimes and in some ways. How we do that is obviously another and a tough question—I believe, as the book will argue, that it comes at least in part from a more accurate awareness of our past, of where we’ve been, of who we are. But as with any positive change, part of it will also just be admitting the possibility, recognizing that we can and should strive for such excitement, that there’s nothing wrong with believing at night in the magic of a next morning on which our wishes can come true.
Next wish tomorrow,
BenPS. What do you think? Responses to this wish? Wishes of your own you’d share with the Elves?