Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

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Amber Helsel

Ever since I was a kid, I've always been really excited about Christmas. I would count down the days until I got out of school for winter break, or when the semester ended in college, or just the days when I'd finally get to open presents.

Last year was my first Christmas to spend as a single adult living on her own. The Jackson Free Press art director, Kristin Brenemen, gave me a little tree, and I decorated it with brightly colored yarn, dinosaurs, little ball ornaments and a paper burrito and a blue chicken wing. I used one of my most favorite Christmas gifts, a taco truck, as the topper (thanks, Donna Ladd).

It wasn't much, but I was excited nonetheless. I even managed to pose the yearly question to my mom: "Can I open a present early?" She said no, of course.

I'm very conscious of my un-holiday mood this year. I'm incredibly aware of the fact that my tree still isn't up, and with me finishing up gifts, working on art projects, and seeing friends and family, I realize that it's probably not going to happen. I don't have any decorations, even though I told myself that this year, I would put effort toward it. I haven't yet, and I doubt I'm going to (though I may find some time to put a strand of lights around my door).

To be honest, it seems like a lot of people are in the same boat as I am. It's been a tumultuous year, with the crazy election cycle, really cool people dying left and right, and situations such as the one in Aleppo and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It's hard to feel the holiday spirit when it feels like the entire world has gone bonkers, but I don't think it's impossible. I think we're too busy being preoccupied with the rest of the world that we forget to just stop and take a moment to breathe and appreciate the world around us.

We forget that it's not all crazy. Good things have happened this year. Hillary Clinton drew nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, even if she didn't win the election. The money raised from the ice-bucket challenge that took over the Internet earlier this year helped fund research that found the gene that causes Lou Gehrig's disease, which means we're that much closer to a cure.

Pokemon Go happened this year. We found out this year that Harriet Tubman is going to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and "Star Wars: Rogue One" came out this year.

So even if things look bad, they're not all that terrible. There is still some good left in the world.

You just have to look for it.

I try to live by two mottos: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I think both of those are important in this season, especially with the state of the world.

So if you're having trouble getting in the spirit, and you're mad at the world, why not do some good? Donate to a cause you believe in or a nonprofit you want to support. Go and serve food to the homeless. Or if you see someone struggling, just show them a little kindness, whatever you think that needs 
to be and can manage.

As someone who has been struggling lately, I can tell you first hand that it helps. If you do that for someone, they can pay it forward to someone else, and so on and so forth. When you start that cycle, it continues, and it can give some small light to the world. It can drive out some of the darkness.

And if you're the one struggling, give back in whatever way you can, even if it's just buying a gift for someone.

Remember this, because this is something a lot of people forget: The holiday season isn't just about Christmas. Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Pancha Ganapati and so many other holidays fall around this time of year.

So when we say "Happy Holidays," it's not a slight against Christmas. It's just an acknowledgement that there are other traditions that matter, and by extension, other people with different beliefs who matter. It also makes me sad that more people are worried about what's on a Starbucks cup than all the injustice in the world around them.

Let's talk about that holiday cup. Yes, Starbucks is a giant corporation, but at least for this holiday season, it's putting a focus on community and creating a common thread between everyone. This GOOD Ideas issue covers just that, and it might give you some helpful advice on talking to family during Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever your celebration is.

In this day and age, being able to talk and listen to each other is so crucial, and I think we've forgotten how to do that. It's time we relearned to do it. It's time that we become more accepting of each other and other points of view. It is time we started loving each other again despite our differences.

So with that, I say Merry Christmas, Hanukkah sameach, happy holidays, and have a happy new year.

Assistant Editor Amber Helsel's alter ego is Umaru Doma. Some call her the Demon Lady of Food (not really, but she wouldn't object to it). She likes to cook, eat, make art and pet cats. Email story ideas to amber@jacksonfreepress.com.

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