Commentary: We need a little Christmas

Flipping through radio channels the other day, I stumbled across the Sirius channel playing Christmas music and heard Johnny Mathis’ cover of “We Need a Little Christmas.”  An upbeat song about longing for the secular trappings of Christmas, its second verse contains a slightly darker couplet: “I’ve grown a little leaner; grown a little colder/grown a little sadder, and grown a little older” which conveys weariness at the passing of a difficult year.  I think a lot of us can relate to that.

The year 2016 has been one of political tumult, economic uncertainty, racial division, and continued coarsening of the culture.  The gaps that divide us seem to have widened, and shouting seems to have replaced speaking in much of our civil discourse.  Outrage – much of it manufactured by people who profit from such outrage – seems at times to be our most treasured social currency.

Of course the elephant in the room has been the presidential election.  Love or hate the results, almost no one enjoyed the tenor of the campaign, which divided families, friends and communities.  Each succeeding campaign seems to eclipse the last as the most negative campaign in history, and this year was no exception.

What has been truly exceptional, however, is continuation of campaign-style vitriol so far past Election Day.  I think it was more of a media-created caricature than a widespread phenomenon, but we could all imagine the spectacle of a family so divided by politics that a Thanksgiving dinner could degrade into shouting.  The Facebook feed of anyone with politically diverse friends still resembles a protracted and exhausting argument.

Similarly, and in parallel, 2016 will not be remembered as a year of racial harmony, to put it mildly.  Police shootings, protests that degraded into riots, and high-decibel debates about which lives matter have dominated the headlines and the airwaves. The last eight years have seen the election and re-election of our nation’s first black president;  nonetheless, we are more “two nations” than at any time in recent memory.

For Shenandoah County, the year has been fraught as well.  Our divided Board of Supervisors holds meetings which, at their worst, can resemble episodes of the Jerry Springer Show. Our school system, our Sheriff’s Office and our Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office have all faced various controversies in 2016, sometimes between them.  Along with that, we have a local economy that is growing anemically at best, and, like the rest of our region, we face a surge in drug abuse.  A little sadder and a little older indeed.

Against this backdrop – or perhaps to escape it, my family and I attended the “Light Up Woodstock” this month.  Town employees and volunteers had put in a lot of work to decorate the area around Court Square.  Many more volunteers had worked on floats, while others walked along handing candy to the children along the parade walk.  Choirs from several different schools sang carols on the courthouse steps.  On a chilly night, friends and neighbors greeted each other warmly, and everyone cheered as Mayor McCleary guided a small boy to flip the switch and light up the town Christmas tree.  In its wholesome simplicity, the event contained something many of us need.

We need to be reminded that family, friendship, community and the other ties that bind us are stronger than the forces that push us apart; that the real-life community found in our all-American small towns is a friendlier and more welcoming place than the “virtual communities” of social media.  We need to remember that there are more important things in our lives than the momentary topics of our division.  We need to draw close to loved ones; re-connect with friends and remember how to be the people we are on our best days.

Mostly, we need to be reminded of the hope for all humanity contained in the sentence, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, ’tis Christ the Lord.”  In other words, we need a little Christmas now.  Here’s to hoping we find it.

Dan Walsh is a resident of Edinburg.