My default these days is to wish everyone a happy holiday. I want to be circumspect, want to honor the various celebrations that coincide with this time of year - Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa - I want to tread lightly. It happened last night at the holiday celebration in New London. There were close to 130 alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of Proctor at the event at the Lake Sunapee Country Club, and amidst the good cheer and laughter and Proctor stories, holiday greetings rang out. “Happy Holidays” dominated.“Merry Christmas!” could be heard as well, but the preponderance were holiday greetings, and that’s got me thinking: to Christmas or not to Christmas?
Christmas is all around us, and mostly it feels like marketing and the holiday hustle. The deals, the jingles, the cyber sales, the ads that pop up on news feeds. The holidays are all over our little phone and computer screens. In front of fire stations, garden and hardware stores, trees and wreaths beckon those who are still getting ready. Town greens are lit up with Christmas trees (although the one in Andover seems to keep getting blown over in the wind), Crèche displays are in front of churches, wreaths festoon doors. And those house lights? Instead of playing that old night time car game of padiddle, the number of lights on a house becomes the contest. It’s staggering and fun. Think Chevy Chase in the movie Christmas Vacation, but it also lifts the heart. It’s cheerful. Joyful. In windows you can see the sparkle of Christmas trees. The holiday hustle indeed.
In my family, there’s a bit of a blend when it comes to faith and tradition. On my mother’s side, the family traces back to Scotland and the clans. The Christmas tree, as far as I can tell, has always been a part of the season and “Merry Christmas” has always been part of the greeting. On my dad’s side the journey is a little more complicated. There are stories about the Henriques family pushed out of Portugal, driven out during the Spanish inquisition because they were Jewish. Forced to flee, some sailed to the Caribbean where they may or may not have taken up the livelihood of being pirates. But somewhere in that journey, the Episcopal faith took root and became dominant.
So when I think about Christmas, its rituals and stories, I try to see the intention of the faith and not get so wrapped up in the particularities. Getting hung up and proprietary about the rituals surrounding these holidays of faith might result in the loss of the good intentions behind the holidays. So if someone wants to Merry Christmas me or Happy Hanukkah me, I’m all for it because I am all for the coming together that seems to be behind a lot of these holidays.
In the theatre at Proctor, a banner hangs above the stage with one simple word: Together. We believe that with all of our individuality, all of our identities in the Proctor community, we should work to sustain this notion that we are moving forward in this living and learning journey together. We need acceptance, grace, and gratitude as our companions. It’s not about having the right traditions or the right faith or about claiming and defending the moral high holiday ground. Our traditions and our faiths should not drive us apart, but reinforce that sense of the together.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School