What’s Up With Merry?


Why does this holiday season have its own, exclusive adjective? No one ever says they had a Merry 4th of July, Halloween, or Thanksgiving. Why does the word disappear the rest of the year?

We all know what it is to be merry. It’s that feeling that shoves our worries out of the way and allows us to be at peace for a change. But why do we only use the word this time of year? Maybe the answer has something to do with a dumb thing I did when I was 13.

It was the holiday season in 1973. My cash strapped parents gave me $25 and set me loose in our local department store to buy presents for them and my 3 siblings. At first, I pretended to shop for things I thought each might actually enjoy. But then I made a beeline for the $25 train set I’d told everyone I wanted.

It took about 2 seconds to convince myself that it would really be a gift for the whole family. I’d set it up to chug around the tree and let everyone take a turn running it. The fact that I’d play with it in my room the rest of the year was not, of course, a factor.

Amidst the usual early morning hubbub and laughter of our Christmas morning, I handed mom my present for the whole family. When she unwrapped it, an immediate, stunned silence fell upon them all. Their heads snapped toward me and they stared at me as if I’d just handed my mother an empty box, which was exactly what I’d done.

Obviously, I wouldn’t have survived an attempt to set the trains up around the tree. But later that day, I snuck them into my room and had a good time playing with them by myself. However, even in the depths of my kiddie selfishness, I was aware that I’d done something wrong.

Over the next 40 years, I came to realize that we feel merry when we turn the spotlight away from ourselves and focus completely on others and what would make them happy. When we do that it forces us to see – beyond all the clichés – that those relationships really do matter far more than our daily struggles, worries, and ambitions. And then, almost magically, peace descends upon us.

Have a Merry Christmas and 2015.