In two days, children will wake up to a tree with presents wrapped in brightly colored paper. Wastebaskets will be filled with cardboard, Scotch Tape, and parents with bags hanging heavy as Santa’s sack under their eyes from a sleepless night will sip coffee and congratulate themselves on a job well done.
Yet in almost every instance, all of those parents will have conned themselves into believing they have found the root of happiness while overlooking one sad fact: not a single present under the tree is new.
Sure, the packaging is new, the items inside still have the chemical-fresh smell of the factory, but all of it will be a different incarnation of the same old toys their child probably had before, or something they owned when they were a child but broke, or just something updated or disguised with the latest fashion. Want proof? I already unwrapped one of my presents; a fancy blue tooth speaker the size of a soft drink can. I’ve had a bluetooth speaker before, but it didn’t sound as good, and I’ve certainly had stereos with better sound than this, even if they did take up more space. Still, it’s the same.
Art and literature are much the same in their repackaging. My wife and I recently took our son to see Frozen II in the theater. It’s far better than the original, which wasn’t very good, truth be told, but it’s hardly something new. You see, Anna and Elsa are looking for the fifth element and as anyone who has seen the now vintage sci-fi movie The Fifth Element might guess, the fifth element is in their possession the entire time, and yes, she is a beautiful woman just like in the original–I mean The Fifth Element. Of course, it’s not exactly like the Bruce Willis version; there are trolls and giants and weird-looking magical creatures and unexplained phenomena and they must understand the past to save the future.
Okay, come to think of it, FROZEN II really is exactly like The Fifth Element, only set in a fantasy land.
As a species we seem to gravitate toward new incarnations of the same old thing. Christianity and the promise of Jesus–to ameliorate the suffering of humanity–was never a new concept or even unique, although some like to claim that it is. Winter solstices have been celebrated since humankind first began to track the movement of the heavens and realized that we have no control over the one celestial body that gives life to all organisms. Its return, of course, is definitely worth celebrating, no matter what traditions you prefer.
And so are the smiles on our children’s faces, beaming with excitement as they open their next new (old) present. It generates in us the same feeling our parents felt, and probably their parents before and so on and so forth. Generosity is arguably the most attractive of human traits.
So this holiday season, buy someone another mystery novel that’s basically the same as the last, or take them on another trip to hobbiton, or Narnia or jump aboard the Millenium Falcon or search for the Fifth Element in Arendel, knowing that you are not alone, wishing to be reborn, to find something just like what you have made better.
Celebrate rebirth and hope.
Mark the joy you get from making others happy–even if it isn’t through gift giving–and take revel in the fact that all of humanity feels the same joy as you.
I like to think the real reason why the sun returns every year is that we remind ourselves that kindness and generosity is the best humanity has to offer. Even if that is the same old story told millions of different ways across galaxies and time, it never gets old.