The Christmas tree on the Third Street Promenade, shown here during the 2009 lighting ceremony, may be a thing of the past. (Brandon Wise brandonw@www.smdp.com)

S/HE — I was going to save this topic for December, but like the stores that put out snow globes and Santa hats on the first day of October, I just couldn’t wait.

‘Tis officially the season. I have that familiar feeling of anticipation that the holidays bring. You know-the glowing ball of nostalgia and possibility that sits in your chest and swells with every glittery, pumpkin-y, warm sweater-y thing you encounter. It’s completely unreasonable how important this time of year feels, isn’t it? After all, if we really wanted to, we could make a turkey dinner in May.

I acknowledge that we legitimately love the food and the fun we associate with this season, but I think our excitement during the holidays betrays something deeper about who we are at our core. Underneath the thick layer of tinsel, we’re really just longing for connection.

How we treat this season reveals how much human beings need other human beings. That’s why we gather around dinners, give each other presents, watch movies about other people connecting, and hope for a New Year’s kiss. I think that just the increased possibility of connection – real or imagined – makes the holidays the most hopeful time of the year for many people. And the loneliest time for others.

We have a house on the YWCA property that gives a home to young women who have aged out of the foster care system. One of the staff members of the house was talking to me about the upcoming holidays, so I asked if the girls had any plans to celebrate. She told me they did, but that it’s difficult for many of the ladies-especially those new to the house-to get into the spirit. She explained that because these women grew up in the system, they don’t have a family to look forward to celebrating with. You see, Pumpkin Spice Lattes and carols by themselves aren’t enough to give someone that holiday feeling.

And then you have those people who have all the family, feasts and gifts in the world, but find that the season never quite lives up to expectation. The opportunity to connect is there, but because we’re distracted by the commercialization of the holidays we celebrate, we sometimes don’t understand that human connection is the thing we’re yearning for, and we put our energies into material pursuits instead of relational ones-worrying more about the food on the table than the people sitting around it. Then we’re surprised why we’re left feeling full and lonely.

So can we just admit how much we need each other? Is there really anything more important in this life than the relationships we have?

The encouraging thing is, we have ultimate control over our choices, and so we have the final say about whether we’re connecting with people or not. That means we are not limited by our circumstances. For those with existing relationships, shifting focus from things to people is all it really takes. For those without family or close friends (and for anybody, actually), volunteering or serving others in some way offers an instant, meaningful connection to another human being. Have you ever performed an act of service and found yourself feeling surprisingly alive? Connecting with other people makes us feel human.

And the young women at the YWCA? My colleague tells me that every year, once they start to connect over dinner and spend time decorating the house together, their apathy for the holidays melts away. But this isn’t just about the holidays. When people open their hearts to one another in an authentic way, powerful transformation often follows. These girls, for example, move on from the program after two years with a new outlook on life, self-sufficient and filled with purpose. Many come back and credit the connections they made at the YWCA as the catalyst for their breakthroughs.

Wouldn’t it be fun if we all got it this year-that simple, genuine human connection is all it takes to transform a person’s experience of this season-and life? Maybe then, we wouldn’t need the holidays to bring us together.

Does that sound like wishful thinking? Well, ’tis the season.

The YWCA Santa Monica/Westside is a nonprofit organization that empowers women and girls. Annually, we serve more than 2,500 women, girls and children from 10 communities on the Westside of Los Angeles. Contact Margarita Roze directly at mroze@smywca.org.

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