We moved to Palm Beach County from the Northeast in March 2007. That means we had been South Florida residents for nine months before our first Christmas.
I had wondered how South Florida would handle the winter festival season. Would they sing songs like “Let it Snow” and “Winter Wonderland”?
As it turns out, we do. Here in the land that never snows, we hang snowflake ornaments and we wear sweatshirts with images of snowmen Of course, we wear those sweatshirts with shorts and sandals, but the holiday spirit is in full force. The holiday spirit includes a festive celebration of the weather that never happens here.
I suspect that some of us are celebrating the fact that we live in a tropical paradise, while others are homesick for Jack Frost nipping at their noses.
Our first holiday season here I laughed out loud in the grocery store. Right under the snowflake decorations was a sign that read, “Christmas is for Barbeque.” As a northeasterner who never once dreamt of a white Christmas, I like to celebrate the holiday season with a picnic on the beach.
The debate about when on the calendar Christmas decorations should appear notwithstanding, I was happy to witness the November 12th tree lighting event in CityPlace.
CityPlace, for my non-Palm Beach friends, is an outdoor mall in West Palm Beach. It has the best Starbucks, where I like to sit and sip tea under the palm trees and watch the passers-by. CityPlace has an elegant movie theatre, the Improv, B.B. King’s and a host of bars and nightclubs. It has plenty of shops for fashion and doo-dads, as any mall should.
CityPlace is also only a block from our West Palm Beach condo. Yes, I am enjoying city life.
Saturday, after I taught a class and entertained at an afternoon party, John made dinner and drinks and we walked to watch West Palm Beach welcome the holiday shopping season.
Holiday revelers packed CityPlace. The opening act was a Mariachi band singing “Feliz Navidad”. Skaters in glittery costumes performed on synthetic ice to a mix of holiday music both recorded and live. Finally, the forty-foot tree was aglow, and the snow began to fall.
The fake snowfall lasted only a moment, but it was beautiful. It didn’t make me miss the northeast, nor long for a fireplace and a white Christmas. It did remind me that seasonal celebrations are sacred. Celebrating the changing seasons is important, regardless of religion, and regardless of geography. Annual events help us piece together the stories of our lives and our families. Holiday festivals are part of our shared culture and experience.
Every year, folks complain about the commercialization of Christmas, and the need to remember the reason for the season.
We celebrate Christmas near the winter solstice because the Yule tradition of celebrating the return of the sun is thousands of years older than Christianity. It made sense to early Christians to superimpose their holiday on the seasonal holiday already in force. Thematically, the return of the sun and the birth of the Savior are similar. Even Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is similar in its sentiment of bringing light and hope to the world.
This year, with the economy still struggling and straining toward recovery, we are all-too-aware of the secular reason for the season as well – those who can spend, should spend, to get the economy rolling again.
There are many reasons for the season now upon us, ready or not. Last week at CityPlace, the mayor was there, not to honor a religious holiday or remind us of our family traditions, but to encourage us to spend money in her fair city. That’s her job, and I’m ok with that.
As we watched the skaters, and sang along with the familiar carols, many of us had tears in our eyes. In the end, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what your religion is, how much money you will spend this season, or what the weather is. What matters is that, for just a moment, thousands of strangers were no longer strangers, but united in a shared celebration.
No one religion has claim or copyright on the winter holiday season. That so many cultures have reason to celebrate together in unity is a much better focus than arguing over whether we should say “Merry Christmas” or simply “Happy Holidays.” That we wish each other well as we celebrate the changing seasons together is the important part.
Whatever the reason for the season, this year I’m welcoming it with open arms. And I will remember to keep the Sol in Solstice.