What I Wanted for Christmas


I got exactly what I wanted for Christmas – collective joy.

Like many others, by the beginning of December I was tapped out. As a result, I was much too susceptible to the magpie syndrome and easily distracted by anything bright and shiny. Even more disturbing is that I found myself at risk for being drawn into what some are calling collective inertia.

To be fair, it wasn’t just Covid, work pressures, and interactions with a few too many rude people. It was also the first Christmas without my lovely Mom who died this year, and, two years since my brother passed away. 

So, not only was I distracted by anything remotely shiny, there was also a lot of emotion triggered by any comment or material item related to my mother or my brother.
One of the things I stumbled across was this video link my mother sent me years ago.

It was shot in the main concourse area of a busy train station in Brussels. As I watched it again, the classic version of Do-Re-Mi, sung by the legendary Julie Andrews, was suddenly heard over the loudspeakers in place of the typical announcements of arrivals and departures. By the looks on the faces of those captured in the video, it wasn’t quite what they were used to hearing.

Suddenly a young man started dancing. He was quickly joined by several young kids and before you could say “doe a deer”, several hundred people of all ages had taken over the central area and were dancing animatedly to the iconic song from the Sound of Music in a series of choreographed, lively, and funky moves.

The best part was watching the looks on peoples’ faces as they went from initial puzzlement, to broad smiles, to clapping and bouncing, to what ultimately appeared to be total and unmitigated joy. Quite honestly as I watched it, I too was smiling and laughing but also on some level, extraordinarily moved.

The images stuck with me and I found myself trying to figure out exactly what it was that touched me on such a deep level. There was just something about the rhythms, the music, and the happiness that struck a chord. This was something different because it was more of a communal celebration. It made me wistful and question why it is that we have so few, or perhaps even resist altogether, opportunities to have fun together?

Barbara Ehrenreich in her book, Dancing in the Streets, has explored the origins of this shared celebration as a history of what she has termed “collective joy”.
Ehrenreich connects a growing epidemic of depression with our decline in group bonding rituals - think church, feasts and carnivals. She also explains how throughout history, group celebrations have brought people together in a spirit of solidarity, joy and union. These festivities have promoted not only human bonding but in some cases have been vehicles for change to fight oppression.

I’m not suggesting all our problems would be solved if we got out and danced together, but this December I deliberately sought collective joy by prioritizing gatherings with friends and families. This year, I started the planning, shopping, and food prep much earlier. The results included great conversations, good food, time for reflections, family board games, and a lot of hugs and laughter. The best part was sitting back, watching the faces, interactions and smiles on the faces of my beloved friends and family. It was indeed a gift of collective joy.

We have never lost the capacity for collective joy. It is part of our nature and being as humans. What we have lost are the opportunities for experiencing it. And, that’s the challenge for each of us – figuring out how to bring more opportunities for collective joy into our lives, organizations and communities. It could be the best gift we ever give one another.

Posted on 12-28-22

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