12/20/2007 04:02 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Community Values Christmas

I'm Jewish. In fact, following my first-ever full-blown Christmas
with my partner's family, an aunt re-introduced me to a cousin saying,
"You remember Sally. She was the token Jew at Christmas."

It was true. I'm outsider to the religious parts of the holiday.
But I'm no stranger to the values and culture of Christmas. Far more
than just a religious occasion, Christmas in the American tradition is
a celebration of family, community and generosity -- a tradition of
community values.

Every year now, we schlep out to rural Illinois with a haul of
presents. This year, my partner and I tried to balance our
environmental "life is about more than consumption" view of the world
with the recognition that it's fun to give people things and we don't
exactly have the time or lifestyle that allows for hand-knit scarves
and such. But at the end of the day, after all the shopping and
spending and wrapping and stuffing into the stockings, the stuff is
just stuff. What we celebrate are not the presents but the people --
that they took the time to do something so thoughtful and giving.

Selflessness is an American value. We go out of our way to get our
grandmother a really nice, really overpriced hat even though we know
she's only going to get us another weird pair of socks. Just like the
rest of the year we volunteer and give money to charity, hold doors
open for strangers, pay our taxes, leave good tips at restaurants,
read the news in Burma or the Congo and feel empathy, look after the
children playing ball near the street.

Every day, in ordinary and extraordinary ways, all of us do things to
show our deep love and connection to the people around us -- not only
our families, but our neighbors, our countrymen, our fellow human
beings. Everyday, we give of ourselves without expecting anything in
return but simply out of common decency, knowing that we're all in it
together. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, "We are all caught
in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of
destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects us all indirectly."
This sense of the greater good is the spirit of Christmas and the soul
of America.

Unfortunately, our nation has lost its way in the last several
decades. Forces from Hollywood to Washington have tried to convince
us we're on our own, that it's a dog-eat-dog competitive world and you
have to "look out for number one." While we once prioritized our
shared duty to help the least among us, today we spend more time
cutting taxes and attacking gay marriage than solving the sub-prime
mortgage crisis or reducing pollution. While we once celebrated our
diversity as a nation, we now spend more effort policing our borders
and dismantling affirmative action than providing healthcare and
economic opportunity for all. Many of us have come to believe that
the only way to get ahead is to leave others behind -- which has led to
greedy excess for a small few but only struggle and disappointment for
the rest of us.

So it's fitting that Christmastime comes at the end of the calendar
year. It's the perfect time to re-think what we value as individuals
and as a nation. Is it really just the accumulation of stuff, at any
cost? Or do we deeply care about the people around us, our
communities in the smaller and larger meanings of the word, the world
we live in? If what we love about Christmas is really the spirit of
togetherness, then what does it mean to live that togetherness

I can't wait for the cookies. I can't wait for the eggnog. I can't
wait for my extremely long purple-and-red knit stocking which hangs
next to the rest of the family's traditional white-and-red ones. But
what I really can't wait for is the conversation, the smiles, the
love, the appreciation, sharing the holiday together with people I
care about and giving to them not because I have to but simply because
it gives me joy.

Even though I'm Jewish, I love Christmas -- for the same reason
millions of US-born citizens support immigrant rights and millions of
white people oppose racial profiling and millions of middle class
families support safety net programs for the poor. We are a nation of
people who care about more than just ourselves -- not just at Christmas
but year-round. We are a nation of community values, where we move
forward further together.

This year, I know I'll get drunk on eggnog. And then I'll go home
and pay my taxes and give money to social change organizations and
vote and fight like hell for justice in politics and the world with
the same spirit of community values that we're all blessed to receive
at Christmas.