Sunday, December 18, 2005

No Room at the Chilis

Trying to go out of a nice dinner with my husband during the holiday season can be challenging. Friday night we decided to try a restaurant in the mall. Being one of those "trendy" places, it obviously attracted several other people, their shopping bags and small amounts of their household and personal possessions. Just sneaking around large groups of confused people to get our name in to the hostess was a chore.

There was no room yet, we'd have to wait and why don't we peruse this menu so ordering our relaxing meal wouldn't take so long after they kick out some diners, their shopping, their laptop computers, and their collections of thimbles from around the world.

Normally I would be the first to argue that, no matter what your definition of Christmas, the holidays or whatever, it shouldn't have anything to do with dropping at least a grand on gifts and fun seasonal activities. This time of year, my line of reasoning would have determined, wasn't supposed to be about the commercialization of anything red and green, gold and silver.

However, as I sat near the cold entry to the restaurant with the bitter wind blowing past me every time more customers arrived to add their names to the queue, I realized that this could very well have been the meaning of Christmas all along -- cheerfully taking turns and knowing the answer to "what do you mean I'm not the center of the universe?" As the story goes, with no room at the Inn, Mary and Joseph, were forced to move along and take what they could get and, like my father who ate cardboard every meal as a kid, be grateful for it. Okay, so we didn't exactly give birth to the Christ child in the parking lot of Burger King. We simply waited for a meal because everybody and their dog was out Christmas shopping.

Hundreds of years of struggle and determination to get gifts and fake snow and tinsel trees all perfectly prepared for a single day of reveling had created the environment in which a fair bit of commercialization could grip the American psyche in mid-to-late December. This, in turn, created an atmosphere of panic, indulgence to counteract the panic and significant amounts of prayer that everything would come out correctly and swiftly. All of this culminated in crowded malls and restaurants, scarcity of politeness and product -- just so we could all remember that the defining moments in life aren't platinum-plated but are, instead, whatever you make of them.

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