A Christmas Wish
The NBA’s Detroit Pistons lost their 26th consecutive game last night, tying a League record. Not a great way to start the Holiday weekend. I bring it up because, in an odd way, it connects to my take on the Holiday season. Fifty years ago, in 1974, I began my career as a Varsity basketball coach at Blind Brook High School. We played our first game in early December against Bronxville High School (where I would later teach and coach basketball). We did not have a senior on our team, and very few players near or over six feet tall. The Bronxville team, captained by future NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, beat us 72 to 29 --- and they played their scrubs for much of the second half. We would go on to lose 15 more games that season, finishing 0-16 and, the following year, we would lose our first 12 games before finally winning a game (and we won two in a row, before losing our last two, finishing 2-14). You can do the math: we lost 26 games in a row, just like the Pistons. I bring this up because it taught me an important lesson, and one that connects to the Holiday Season for me.
I grew up an extremely competitive athlete --- playing football, basketball, baseball, and running track in high school, and then playing football and lacrosse in college. Luckily for me, I was surrounded by quite a few great athletes and the teams I played on were extraordinarily successful (except for my freshman college lacrosse team, but that’s a story for another time). I cannot blame my parents for my vicious competitive streak --- it’s something innate (tied to an extreme inclination for perfectionism) and I still lapse into “that guy,” even while playing senior tennis. For an athlete as competitive as I, losing 26 consecutive games was not an easy pill to swallow. Over those early years of coaching basketball, I lost far more games than I won and, while I could find reasons (make excuses), I ultimately had to learn humility, particularly when involved in sports --- and that brings me to the Holiday Season.
Most of my friends could tell you that, over the years, I’m pretty much a Grinch about Christmas --- but it weirdly ties into that notion of humility. While I’ve been a devout atheist my entire adult life, I was raised a Roman Catholic and I have to say that the early lessons of the New Testament stuck with me and had a deep influence on certain core beliefs. If you read the stories about Jesus, it’s hard to not see his basic communist tendencies --- driving those moneychangers out of the temple, feeding everyone with fishes and loaves, turning the other cheek, seeing everyone as one's “brother.” Those lessons, particularly caring about the “greater good,” were deeply embedded in me and help explain my own disdain for capitalism (and my career as a teacher & coach). And that brings me back to the Holiday Season.
My Grinchiness stems from the gross commercialization of Christmas. While the Holy Day itself commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, the holiday as presently constituted, is about things and profits. It’s about receiving gifts --- and, oh, yeah, giving some, too. The hard sell starts before Halloween --- the bombardment of ads online and on streaming and tv networks begins in October and accelerates, unabated, through the 25th of December. While some networks run the “Jesus” movies (or PBS documentaries), the basic essence of who Jesus was and what he preached is seldom, if ever, focused on. The notion that someone else comes first, that it is, in fact, “better to give than receive,” that --- whether you believe it or not --- this man sacrificed himself for the greater good is seldom, if ever, the focus of the day.
So, not to be the Grinch --- I would ask folks, during the next week, to take a moment to consider why this holiday (“Holy Day”) exists, who it commemorates and what he believed in --- and act accordingly. Amid the plethora of NFL and Bowl games, “Holiday Specials” and Hallmark Movies, find a quiet place to be thankful for what you have, to remember those who have helped you along the way, and, maybe, to even reach out and perform a kind gesture you might not otherwise do. And have a Happy Holiday.