Not long ago, my wife told me that she wished I would not write a specifically Christmas column this year. She explained that she finds these exercises cloyingly sentimental. Filled with expressions of love and invocations of family togetherness, they often depart from the realities of our demanding lives.

Mind you, my wife and I celebrate the holiday. We have a Christmas tree and string lights in front of our house. We also send out Christmas cards and exchange presents. Because I am Jewish, we light the Hanukkah menorah as well. And oh, yes, there are all those parties to attend.

Nonetheless, she and I know that our lives will not be changed by such celebrations. We have lived too many years, and experienced too many holidays to expect them to bring unmitigated joy. Furthermore, we have learned that transitory expressions of love do not repair difficult relationships.

And so when endless streams of mawkish Christmas movies preempt our favorite television programs, we grow restive. Or when nothing but Christmas music fills the airwaves, we tire of the jolliness and pretend religiosity. We especially hate those mushy commercials.

But then, a week ago, we attended a concert sponsored by Kennesaw State University’s School of Music. A program called “In the Spirit: A Celebration of the Holidays” shed new light on old traditions. Performed by the Atlanta Pops Orchestra and featuring John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band, it was a revelation.

To put the matter succinctly, it was rollicking good fun. The orchestra was in wonderful form. Its musicians were actually smiling. They performed with a verve and good humor that was infectious. Yes, the music was familiar, but it was delivered with such glee that I could not keep from grinning.

As for Hopkins, his Santa-like rotundity suited the occasion. From where I sat, his playfulness reflected a genuinely good nature. What is more, the man can sing. There was a gusto to his manner that brought his selections to life.

I loved hearing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” sung as if it meant something. I reveled in “Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer” and, along with Grandpa (and cousin Mel), found I believed. I especially adored the delightful nastiness of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

These tunes brought back happy memories. They invigorated the dormant child in me and I relished their silliness. This represented a cheerful Christmas. Although there was also religious music, its beauty enhanced the giddiness and energy of the other offerings.

We in the Atlanta area are lucky to have such high quality diversions at our disposal. When I lived in New York City, I assumed that it was the capital of first-rate entertainment. Well, maybe that’s true — but Georgia more than holds its own.

Moreover, I can have as good a time here — perhaps a better one. Because I can let my hair down, I do not need to feign make-believe sophistication. Quality, as it happens, is not just a matter of technique or talent. It is also a product of emotion and commitment.

So let me get back to the business of celebrating Christmas. It doesn’t have to be artificial. It need not be sanctimonious. Although shopping in our increasingly materialistic society nowadays begins weeks before Thanksgiving, we do not have to let a compulsive drive to be “loving” get us down.

Contrived smiles can be nauseating; nonetheless there can also be moments of unaffected exultation. Young children experience it when they unwrap their gifts from Santa. Their astonishment at an unearned reward converts the world into a place where anything is possible.

For adults, that kind of happiness is less available. We have endured too many frustrations and seen too many illusions shattered to expect to have all our dreams fulfilled. In our urbanity, we wait for the other shoe to drop; for that next problem to arise.

Yet despite it all, there can be moments of pure pleasure. My wife and I experienced one listening to the Atlanta Pops. It was real and spontaneous. Then again, their arrival depends on us being open to them. And so, here’s hoping you too retain a capacity for wonder and delight.

Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D. is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University. He lives in Canton.


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