The holidays

I have always felt you can tell the difference between those people who truly love the holidays and those who just go through the motions by when they take their tree down. But then, that doesn’t account for those of us who leave it up because they can’t face the job of taking it down. Then again, why rush to take it down early when the city doesn’t collect trees until right after the Super Bowl?

Most folks who love this time of year will tell you it’s because this is the time when we show goodwill toward one another. But is it an improvement in the human condition that some of us circle our calendars and treat each other kindly for a week or so each year? What does it really mean when countries suspend war on another to honor each other’s holy days? How empty is that?

It’s about as superficial as those "holiday" dramas with sappy endings that the film and TV industry churn out each season in order to hype gift wrap. Does that Budweiser commercial where the Clydesdales are trotting through the snow like a Currier and Ives print convey good cheer or just plain cynicism about the need to sugarcoat even beer commercials at this time of year?

The real magic of Christmas is in the eyes of the children, but even those expectations have been cruelly manipulated by the toy manufacturers. Each year another tiresome toy is designated as the hot one that kids must have. The hype builds to a fever pitch in the days leading up to Christmas. Sure enough, there you are at 6 a.m. waiting in line for the Wal-Mart to open, hoping to get your hands on a doll that winks at boys and craves real jewelry — "Hot to Trot" by Mattel — but there are only four left in the store.

You get real lucky. You are the chosen one. You have been lucky enough to get a Hot to Trot doll. On Christmas morning, your child smiles approvingly, knowing he/she will be accepted by friends because of the prized doll. Two weeks later, the doll has winked its last wink and lies forgotten somewhere in the family room.

The holidays bring with them the highest rates of suicide all year, and for a reason: They remind many that the magic has either always eluded them or has disappeared through the years. The holidays remind dysfunctional families just how dysfunctional they have become. The holidays remind the lonely of their loneliness. So with all this baggage, why is it this columnist thinks they are worthwhile?

The holidays shine a light on our souls. They remind us of all the potential in the human race. Every once in a while, the true magic is apparent through all of the glitz, the hype and the hypocrisy. It reminds us of some of the truly good people with whom we have come into contact through the years, the richness of those friends and family members who have made our lives worthwhile.

The real magic is in the traditions we have preserved and honor each holiday season, for those traditions remind us who we were and who we are today. And if we dearly miss those whom we have lost, we treasure even more those who are still with us.

With all the holiday lights, sometimes it is difficult to tell the artificial from the real — the phony from the meaningful. It is not the darkness that obscures at this time of the season, but the blinding glare that blinds us from the truth.

I, like many of you, have been blessed by those who have loved me today and yesterday. I get a whiff of the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen — the homemade manicotti, holiday pies and cookies; I hear the laughter of my loved ones around me; I see my house transformed into a wonderland of sorts, and I take a mental snapshot of this time and place. And I carry it with me the rest of the year.

And then I bow my head for the armies of the lonely who are just trying to survive another holiday.

Tom Cardella can be heard before and after the Eagles-Giants game Saturday on WYSP 94-FM.