This time of year is a season of contradictions.

The message is joy, peace, love and all that good stuff. But the message seems to put a lot of pressure on people.

There are the folks to whom joy, peace and love mean spending, buying and more spending. Or conversely, getting, receiving and more getting.

The expectation of what “Santa” will bring, from the littlest kid to adults who should know better — “I TOLD you I wanted the diamond earrings, and you got me this crock pot? Thanks for nothing! My Christmas is ruined” — tends to make people miserable.

Joy, peace and love? Bah humbug.

Then there are those who obsess that the message isn’t being delivered the way they’d like it to be.
The “war on Christmas” people, the ones who bristle at a cheerful “Happy Holidays,” ignoring the spirit of the greeting because they don’t like the words.

Seems like in a lot of ways, this time of year has become a battleground over expectations, fueled by intolerance and disappointment. That joy, peace and love stuff is just something on the zillion cards you HAVE TO GET OUT THIS WEEK OR NO ONE WILL GET THEM BEFORE CHRISTMAS AND THEN YOU’LL BE OFF THEIR CARD LIST AND THEY’LL HATE YOU AND MAYBE EVEN UNFRIEND YOU AND EVERYONE WILL KNOW.

I read an article this week about the Samaritans group — a Boston-area organization that hosts a hotline on suicide prevention, among other things — and their Happier Boston campaign.
One of the things they are doing to make people happy is hand out oranges at commuter train stations.

Scoff if you will. It works. The oranges put a smile on people’s face. The premise is one simple human gesture can bring people out of their self-absorbed funk and get them to see the bigger picture.
It can be a gesture as simple as an unexpected orange.

I realized I’d been thinking about oranges, too. Not in the “I need some fruit to prevent scurvy or counteract the effects of that ice cream I just ate sense,” but in the symbolic sense. I just didn’t know I was.

It happened while I was driving down Mount Vernon Avenue in Augusta just after dark Sunday night.
Anyone who’s driven on Mount Vernon Avenue knows it can use a facelift. Its crumbling pavement is a bone-jarring test of a car’s suspension system. Most of the triple-deckers and multi-family homes may have seen better days, but not in this lifetime. It’s not a reflection on the people who live there, more a reflection of the tough economic times that have hammered Augusta for generations.

When the lights come out this time of year, that changes.

Rita and Marcel Demers’ home at the north end is a celebration of Christmas color, featuring a nearly live-size nativity scene.

At the south end is the massive triple-decker owned by Roger Jean. Three generations help decorate the home.

Joining in the fun are the neighbors across the street at 40 Mount Vernon Ave., another triple-decker that rivals Jean’s.

Those exuberant displays turn our expectations of Mount Vernon Avenue on their grumpy heads.
Rita Demers takes a lot of pride in her light show, which she’s put up most years since the early 1980s. The lights go up at Thanksgiving and come down, with help from family, the day after Christmas. The nativity scene came from Sears years ago, the star from her sister in Canada.

She said a lot of parents bring their kids to take their picture with baby Jesus.

When the lights come on at each end of Mount Vernone Avenue on a December night, it’s a heck of a Christmas orange.

It’s one of my favorite oranges, but it’s OK if you want it as your’s, too. That’s another thing people forget this time of year: sharing goes hand in hand with peace, joy and love.

There are some Scrooges out there, some Grinches, who will find fault with my orange. So what? It’s mine.

That’s the point: most of the angst about this time of year comes from people feeling that someone, some bigger agenda, is keeping them from having the Christmas they want.

No one is doing that. Your Christmas, or holiday season, is up to you.

Reach down and figure out what kind you want to have. If you prefer merry Christmas to happy holidays, say it. And vice versa.

Demers is clear on her Christmas. She said this week she tries to keep the light show “to what Christmas means, the birth of Jesus. I don’t have a Santa.”

If Christmas is a sacred holiday, as it is to Demers, make it so. You know where to find Jesus, he’s not going anywhere.

If you don’t believe he’s the son of God, just a carpenter with a lot of good ideas, or even that he’s just someone else’s idea, you can still be on board with the peace and love stuff.

People who don’t believe are allowed to have a joyous season, too.

In that vein, another couple of my Christmas oranges are “Adeste Fidelis” — yep, the Latin version — and Darlene Love’s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). When both a hymn and a Phil Spector classic can send chills up your spine, that’s a great orange in itself.

Sharing, peace, joy and love if done right means everyone is entitled to believe what they want.

The basic theme, particularly in light of recent events, is something everyone should be able to get their heads around. It would be nice if it were year round, but if it’s only going to be a few weeks, let’s take it.

Imagine how easy it would be to simply strip away all the retail expectations, superficiality, intolerance and grumpiness.

All it takes is recognizing the simple things that make you feel good, then morph that to the simple things that make the people around you feel good.

Find an orange, don’t wait for someone to give it to you. They are everywhere.

Even Scrooge and the Grinch figured that out.

Maureen Milliken is news editor at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. She grew up in Augusta. Kennebec Tales runs the first and third Thursdays of the month. Email her at [email protected]

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