How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains.
Like most, I strive to be a positive person, or at least not a negative one. And like others, I appreciate and admire good cheer, am warmed by a hearty hello, a vigorous handshake, an embracing hug, even an enthusiastic nod in my direction. But I’m also someone who puts stock in words, what people say, and when and why and how they say it.
In this regard, I’m fascinated by verbal communication, and never more so when it comes to seasonal greetings.
Perhaps this subject is on my mind because we are entering a string of major holidays, drawing drumstick close to Thanksgiving, a maxed-out credit card from Christmas, and a three-day hangover until New Years. Whether the festive spirit emanates from within your soul or is foisted upon your eyes, ears, and epidermis via sappy movies, merry muzak, and endless commercialism, one thing is certain: in the days and weeks ahead you will be the recipient of a steady stream of well wishes and good tidings from friends, family, colleagues as well as the random passerby.
Unless you are a strident contrarian, a practicing Grinch, or a fan of Scrooge’s pre-epiphany bitterness toward all mankind, you will most likely respond to people’s encouragements for you to experience joy in kind, parroting “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year!” over and over and over, until, or at least in my experience, it becomes a rote response, an echo rather than an emanation.
It’s not that I think we are all being cynical uttering such utterances, but I do believe there is a thread of duty in these exchanges, part of an unwritten social contract requiring us as card-carrying humans to match holiday pleasantry with holiday pleasantry. I also feel there is also a controlling dynamic afoot, a way for all of us, never more busy than during the holidays, to limit time expenditures (and possibly guard against emotional overexposure) while still scoring spirit credits.
It’s like sending a text instead of calling someone: the text allows the texter to gain the communicative high ground, dictating the terms of interaction, ending the conversation, so to speak, once the send button is pressed. So it is with the rapid-fire give-and-gives that seemingly define holiday greetings – a verbal handshake or high five depending upon the mood.
So what exactly am I advocating?
Certainly, I don’t want people to stop wishing each other well during the holidays, but wouldn’t it be nice if we mixed things up a little? How about giving others encouragement (and room) to respond in a less uniform manner, or let them know they are not alone in feeling less-than-ecstatic if that is indeed what they are feeling. I mean, it’s not like everyone is happy or merry, and if studies are true, many folks struggle during the holidays, feelings such as isolation and loneliness exacerbated by the pervading idea that we should feel just the opposite. Given that fact, wouldn’t it be more considerate, and helpful, to temper down our greetings, to even let others know that whatever emotional level they are at is fine?
I remember back the first (or five) years after I graduated college, and many of my friends were excelling, moving fast into jobs and careers and relationships, and I was more or less mired in self-inflicted mediocrity. It was a time when I dreaded homecomings, feeling them more like networking events than reunions, the move toward working adulthood and partnered life seeming to turn too many into automatons, the relaxed and lingering catching up chit-chat of the quad replaced with a fast-passing, “Good to see you! I’m Good. You’re Good. That’s Good!”
And then they’d be gone. I decided to try something different, to put an end to all the saccharine goodness. When the next semi-casual acquaintance recognized me and asked me how I was doing, I replied, “Not good. You have time to talk? I’d love to get some things off my chest.” If I recall, that person met my question with a look of horror, gave me a pat on the shoulder, and moved on. The next smiled, either not hearing or comprehending my intent (or maybe he did), returning a hearty, “Glad to hear,” and moved on without a pat.
That ended the experiment.
But I’d like to give it one more try, and perhaps you, the reader, might serve as my proxy. So here are a few alternative greetings to trot out, to weave in, to test, this holiday season. Or perhaps you’d like to personalize your own new greeting this year. Whatever you decide, keep in mind the Henry David Thoreau quote: “The language of friendship is not words, but meanings.”
Alternative Holiday Greetings
“Please Eat Moderately!”
“I Don’t Want to Go Home!”
“Make it Stop!”
” Santa is Real!”
“Another 12 Months!”
“I Hate Change!”
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