Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Circuit Breaker - Why do Simplistic Holiday Stories Hold Us Year After Year?

On this night, this Christmas Eve, those of us who find ourselves filling with Christmas spirit find ourselves willing to embrace a much higher grade of cheese with our yule celebrations.

We put up with the cheesy Christmas tunage and the cheesy decorations turning our stores into holiday theme parks. And if you’re like me you find yourself pausing in a hypnotic stupor watching the cheesiest of holiday television specials and movies.

I sit transfixed at the predictable writing, snail pacing and treacly “on message” pablum. But even though I know how it’s supposed to end, I have difficulty tearing myself away!

And in those moments I feel like an idiot. Why am I still watching??

I think it’s because these story arcs and Christmas arcs in particular has been hard-wired into our brains.

We know stories are powerful but the consistency of the “Christmas story” that is delivered to is intravenously in high doses each year creates a need for us to complete the journey these films and special series episodes represent. Since we are so familiar with the line those tales follow, we can feel the incompleteness of not reaching the end we know is coming.

It’s not the catharsis of a violent action film. It’s the emotional hug that tells us “we’re all in this together. You can follow the downward emotional spiral of “It’s A Wonderful Life’s” George Bailey as he fights to leave Bedford Falls all his life.

We are drawn into his horror that the Savings and Loan may be out of business and all his sacrifices have been for nothing. We would be left feeling empty if we didn’t have the final triumphant rallying of the townsfolk finally getting a chance to pay George Bailey back for years of devotion. When George describes himself as the happiest man in town. We feel a part of that moment.

And our story is complete.

I can go back to what I was doing. I can cook, clean or sleep again and leave my television, at last.

We can move on again knowing we’ve completed the circuit. As Thomas Edison showed us, without a completed circuit, there’s no electricity. No spark.

And that’s what these specials are there to do… to spark a familiar feeling within us. Whether it’s to sell us something or to bring us all closer together doesn’t really matter. The cynicism of the presenter is irrelevant.

All that matters is what we do with the spirit it touches inside us; what we do with our own story.

But hopefully being aware of how this stuff affects us and what parts of ourselves it is reaching out to, allows us to choose whether to break the circuit or embrace and complete it.

Live the adventure.