By Katelynn Farley
HEAD: Sleigh Bells and Stress Levels
WEB BLURB: Christmas has been said to be the most wonderful time of the year—but there are some not so wonderful things. Almost a third of students surveyed spent nearly $100 on gifts last Christmas. Others were bummed out by bad weather and hectic travel.
INTRO [SYDNI FIFE] [sleigh bells start] Christmas is said to be the most wonderful time of the year. Snow is falling, decorations are going up, and many are celebrating with family. But for some, Christmas time is far from the most wonderful. [sleigh bells fade out]. Travel becomes stressful, families eat up time, and the expenses that come with gifts and decorations are often too much. Some struggle with memories of those who have passed away. Members of the Huntington community, as well as students like Josiah Wilson and Kaylea Hendrickson, know these feelings all too well.
KATELYNN FARLEY: Josiah Wilson, a junior journalism major, admits it takes a lot to “get on his nerves” due to his military background and international upbringing in Ukraine. But there is something that bothers him about the traditional American Christmas.
JOSIAH WILSON: I would say something that I don’t like about the traditional American Christmas is, I feel that it has become very commercialized. Which is not surprising because America has commercialized almost every single holiday that I can think of. Every mainstream holiday, at least, has been really heavily commercialized. I don’t like that —it doesn’t bother me so much—but I don’t agree with it. It takes away, I think, from the actual spirit of Christmas.
KAYLEA HENDRICKSON: Currently our Christmas tradition between me and my husband has been avoiding people on Christmas day. Just because it’s been a new experience dealing with my family and his family and figuring out “Ok, which families are we going to spend times with?”
She has a unique view about Christmas in comparison to most Huntington University students. Being married and having a young child, Hendrickson has to focus on more than just snowmen and decorating the tree. She has even resorted to more extreme measures to avoid the stress of family obligations during the holidays.
HENDRICKSON: We needed someone to work on Christmas day, so I even volunteered to work on Christmas day to avoid, like, spending Christmas morning with each family.
FARLEY: Hendrickson had to choose between working on Christmas day or New Year’s, and decided that choosing Christmas day would benefit her more.
HENDRICKSON: That day ended up going pretty well. I had to be at work pretty early, so we just got up early, and so my husband actually came with me to work. I think he ended up working, I think on, like, on our budget or something like that while I was working. So we ended up spending Christmas morning just, like, kind of working side-by-side with our laptops,
working on different things. But, I don’t know, it ended up being really special … just getting to do our own little Christmas thing. We just had Christmas Eve with one family and the Christmas afternoon with the other family, so it ended up working out fine.
FARLEY: But even with the stress of trying to navigate family obligations, Hendrickson does enjoy some of the traditional Christmas season festivities.
HENDRICKSON: I love, like, the first time you turn on the radio and you hear a Christmas song, or the first time you put on your Santa’s hat … or, like, the first couple, like, hanging up the stockings and getting all the decorations out … it’s just all of the anticipation building up to it, I think, has to be my favorite part.
FARLEY: Hendrickson also believes that there is something more important to focus on than the songs and the stockings; the whole reason for the season.
HENDRICKSON: Christmas, I think people just forget that it’s like, you know, this is when Jesus is born — I mean maybe not precisely — like, this is the time of year that we’re supposed to celebrate it and we’re so consumed with like — oh red and green!— and like Santa! Snowflakes! And stuff like that. I think we could do more towards getting Christmas back on the track of celebrating, like, Jesus and his birth.
CHAD YODER: Honestly, and maybe this sounds terrible, but, like, as a pastor, the Christmas eve service has always driven me nuts…
FARLEY: That’s Chad Yoder, pastor at Markle United Methodist Church, who has the job of bringing Jesus even more into the spotlight during the Christmas season … even if he hasn’t always been the biggest fan of that part of his job.
YODER: Uh, because, and here’s why — like the normal Christmas eve service is always at, like, six or seven o’clock and that’s when my family used to do Christmas stuff. And I didn’t grow up in church, so I was used to doing Christmas festivities with my parents on Christmas eve, and so, like, once I became a pastor, I had a service every Christmas Eve at the same time. And it always felt like a little, like, I mean obviously it’s the whole reason for the season, etcetera etcetera, but you could always do it at a different time. So, this year, we’re shaking up Christmas Eve service.
FARLEY: This year, he plans to hold church at the normal 10 a.m. service time, and the special Christmas Eve service will be held at 11:30 p.m. to let the congregation ring in Christmas day together. This is to help him in his goal of reaching people in the community.
YODER: I think too many times in the church we take the either/or road, when it really should be a both/and … it’s never going to win anybody to Christ, and it’s never going to get the whole point of Christmas across. I mean, like, nobody’s ever gonna go for that. It’s much more our responsibility to bridge the gap for people than to assume that they’re going to jump across it themselves. So for me, doing the Christmas series and putting up the lights, you know, and stuff
like that, for me, I’m trying to bridge that gap for people. To see that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It doesn’t have to be the commercialized part and the Jesus part.
FARLEY: Yoder has fond memories and traditions from childhood that he also keeps going through the Christmas season.
YODER: We had this pool table down in the basement, and so mom and dad would pick, like, two or three or four of our, like, smaller gifts.
FARLEY: The children would have to play their dad in a game of pool for the chance to win their smaller gifts.
YODER: So, if we could beat dad in pool, we would be able to open them on Christmas Eve, and if not we had to wait until Christmas morning to open them.
FARLEY: As an adult, Yoder realized that his dad would let him and his siblings win.
FARLEY: Connie Bonner, a member of Yoder’s congregation and the controller in the business office at Huntington University, has fond memories of Christmas as a child as well.
CONNIE BONNER: Family, getting together, eating together … just being together. When I was a child our big tradition was we always were with family. On Christmas Eve we were with my dad’s family and on Christmas day we would go with my mom’s family.
FARLEY: Bonner also grew up with the tradition of going to the Christmas Eve service at her church in Tucson, Arizona.
BONNER: My coolest Christmas Eve service was in Tucson! One time, when Dave was there with me — we were engaged — and we walked out and it was snowing in Tucson, Arizona! And we were out there singing with our candles — and shivering a little bit I believe!— but singing or listening to “O Holy Night” and holding our candles and it was snowing, and it was really awesome and really special.
FARLEY: Having lived in Arizona off and on since childhood, Bonner has had many times where holidays come with stressful travel plans. Having family in both Indiana and Arizona means making sacrifices and compromises, and at least two days worth of travel.
BONNER: There was a point where we were tired of driving, and the weather was such a risk and trying to time when we were going to be there and how long and all that. And, and, I remember saying one time, “Well, we should just go in the summer. Because it’s better weather to go from Arizona to Indiana, or vice versa, and we should just go in the summer.”
FARLEY: But Grandma had other ideas.
BONNER: And Grandma said, “But, Christmas only happens at Christmas.” And I realized how important it was to her. And we just kept up the tradition of being at one place or the other at Christmas.
FARLEY: She also started a new tradition with her husband, David Bonner, for her sons Cameron and Shelby, where “Santa” would bring one big present that was left unwrapped.
DAVID BONNER: I do remember, we got them bunk beds [Connie laughs] … and I built the bunk beds down in the dining room. And they’re going, “Oh man! Santa built these things!” and then I had to take them down and take them apart, then take them upstairs and put them in their bedroom. So I had to build them twice.
FARLEY: Despite the joy of Christmas and Christmas presents, gift giving can be another one of those stressful parts of the holiday. College students can sometimes struggle to afford Christmas gifts for their friends and family, but it still happens regardless of how much money is available to spend.
WILSON: Even though I don’t like the commercial aspect of Christmas, I feel like giving gifts is an important part of Christmas. If you give a gift to someone during Christmas, and you make sure it’s a good gift as opposed to just, “Hey, I got you this card and, like, a hair clip from Dollar General,” you put actual thought into it, it’s a good way to show how much you actually know them and appreciate them, and care about them.
BRANDON YODER: I love gift giving. Not a great receiver of gifts…because I try and go over the top if someone tries to give me something. So, like, if you were to hand me my own phone I would go, [gasps] “How’d you know?!”
FARLEY: That’s Brandon Yoder, 2014 graduate from Huntington University.
YODER: I also really enjoy the traditional aspect of everything. I never went to church when I was a kid, but, like, Kourtney and I go to Christmas Eve services.
FARLEY: Yoder also believes the most important part of this time of year is fellowship and family. Which, in his case, makes things difficult. September of 2016, Yoder lost his mother to lung cancer. This, and a strained relationship with some of his other family members, means that the majority of the holiday season is spent with his wife, Kourtney, and her family.
YODER: Everyone tells you, or the majority of people will tell you, that when you lose a parent…that it gets easier as time goes on. When you lose a parent that hasn’t got to see you pass many of your major life milestones, and every time that you experience one, you think, “Oh, they’ll never be able to see that.” I don’t see how anybody could ever say that it gets easier. So often we try to put things into categories. Very hard, hard, easy, whatever. You can’t just shove it into a category.
FARLEY: Yoder has had to learn how to make extra adjustments for this time of year. Getting used to not having his mother around, being included in his wife’s family traditions, and not
being involved with his side of the family have all been learning experiences since his mother’s passing.
YODER: Three years ago, I’ve just finished college, first job out of college, I’m dating this girl, kinda great…would not have imagined that within a five-year sp
job out of college, I’m dating this girl, kinda great…would not have imagined that within a five-year span that I would be getting ready to go through a Christmas holiday and not have anybody fro
m my family.
FARLEY: Though things have been hard the past couple of years during
the Christmas season, Yoder still has hopes [sleigh bells play again] for what this year and the years to come will look like.
YODER: This year, I really hope is a focus on Kourtney and I building our family.
FARLEY: I’m Katelynn Farley with the Huntingtonian. [sleigh bells start to fade]