Calling a truce in the war on holly jolly

(Aaron Burden |

You’ve heard about the war on Christmas. But have you heard about the war on holly jolly?

It’s a war my wife Corine has waged for some years now. It always starts the same way, my children will tell you. Something pushes her button — one too many grinning snowmen, one too many commercials where fabulously beautiful couples give each other cars with red bows on top, one too many images of idyllic consumerism, in other words.

When she snaps, she turns to whichever child is walking with her down some overstuffed department store aisle and says: “There are two kinds of Christmases, the spiritual and the holly jolly. And the holly jolly just drives people crazy.”

When challenged about her war on holly jolly, she might blame it on my father, who lambasted Christmas for its “forced gaity,” a phrase that is just begging to be adopted as the name of a sullen rock band.

The holly jolly is all the accoutrement of Christmas that has virtually nothing to do with the Christ Child’s arrival. It is all the stuff that, well, really ticked off the Grinch: All the noise, noise, noise and excessive fa la la.

My wife would say that the Grinch had a point. All the marketing images forced upon us for months on end with happy couples, happy children, happy pets all sharing in perfect “Xmas” delight doesn’t just sell us stuff. It can make us feel bad.

People know that they are a long way from these images. At this irrationally exuberant time of year, they feel like they are failing if they aren’t equally exuberant as they struggle to live up to these expectations of holly jolly. Counselors tell us that rates of depression go way up around Christmas, and the internet is crowded with articles on how to relieve this stress.

This year, it has to be worse. We have a pandemic, isolation and unemployment on top of the normal pressures of the season.

Which is why I am proposing to my wife that we call a truce in the war on holly jolly. What I’ve been noticing this year is that people have been putting up lights earlier. Trees seem to be going up earlier, too. Christmas music weeks and weeks before Christmas isn’t irritating. It’s soothing. The holly jolly aspect is maybe just what we need: It’s aromatherapy and light therapy for survivors of a dark and miserable year.

Holly jolly, in fact, might be one of the few signs of normalcy we’ve been able to enjoy this year. So let’s make the most of it. Bring out the gingerbread houses! Take cookies over to the neighbors! Put on an extra strand of lights! Turn off “The Crown” and the evening news and watch the Christmas classics. It is a wonderful life, after all, even now.

And at the same time, light the Advent wreath candles. Go to Mass once during the week. Bring in an extra bag of groceries for the food pantry or send a donation to your favorite charity. Don’t worry about doing 50 Christmas cards, but do 10. Enclose a personal note and send them to people who might really need a kind word.

And don’t forget that there are 12 days of Christmas, so keep the holly jolly going at least until Jan. 6. In fact, keep those Christmas lights up the whole month. Give your neighbors something to smile about.

It has been a rough year for so many of us. Let’s be kind to ourselves and to each other. I’m pretty sure that this year, it’s what the Christ Child would want.

Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at [email protected].