How to find beauty in the bittersweet of Christmas

Teen with iPhone

CHRISTMAS EVE is tonight, and if, like me, you’re no longer eight,  you may soon be ruminating on the paradoxes, contradictions, and ironies of the Season. For those of us in the West, there may be no greater philosophical clash than between the frantic celebration of abundance that Christmas has become and its impoverished beginnings; between our pursuit of enduring, intangible values and our preoccupation with Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Prices.

Fine minds have and will continue to argue the issues, for instance currently around the 90-second video ad from Apple called “Misunderstood.” That particular discussion is well summarized in Evan Selinger’s article, “Why Debating ‘Misunderstood’ Is An Amazing Holiday Gift” on In it, Selinger focuses on how technology might contribute to the problems and at the same time, smoke them out.

My own musings started when my pal, Les, requested a 60-Second Steinbecks video on the difference between irony and coincidence. It’s a tricky one for Steinbecks because, while it may be relatively simple to define the word coincidence, e.g., two unrelated things happening unexpectedly at the same time, even our dictionaries struggle to explain the concept of irony. In fact, one defined it as the incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs, but also acknowledged there may need to be a catharsis over human fallibility.

I’m interjecting this because “Misunderstood” may be effective in helping us understand irony, in both the linguistic sense that Les was asking about, and in the larger issue regarding the holidays that I’m addressing with this post. 

Watching “Misunderstood,” we’re at first led to believe a teenage boy is barely enduring the hyperactive holiday with family, and all the hugging and togetherness is only made tolerable by his ability to go offline with them and online with his iPhone. In the end though, we see that’s not what was going on at all.

It’s a beautiful short film, made all the more bittersweet by it’s melancholy soundtrack, and I think a spot-on illustration of irony. There’s the incongruity between what we expect from a kid and what this kid actually does, as well as what that reveals about our own cynicism. I feel better about Christmas already.