When I was a kid, I always imagined that as an adult I would go to holiday parties with lots of food, dancing, and so forth. But in my twenties, I never really lived that kind of lifestyle, and now that I’m married with children, I find myself attending a different kind of Christmas party every year, one with other parents and people around my age – one not too different from the party in episode 39 of Naruto: Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals.
In this episode of the series, Rock Lee, Naruto, and the others compete to pick from the stash of presents, the picking of which is the culmination of the party. They face some interesting obstacles on the way, including doting dads, lonely bachelors, and cruel senseis. Ultimately, the final two competitors – Rock Lee and Naruto – decide to end their competition and finish the race peacefully, together.
At my annual party, we have a present exchange, too – a white elephant one. Most years, I don’t participate, because I absolutely hate it. This is why: someone always ends up getting hurt. The exaggerated groans that people give when receiving a present they don’t want makes me cringe, because somewhere the giver is displeased, and sometimes, hurt. What’s supposed to be a fun, joyous event can lead to bitterness or sadness.
I often think that, like Naruto and Rock Lee, my group of friends has missed the point.
I hope that this season, you’ll think upon the reason that words like peace, hope, and joy displayed all around us. Those feelings aren’t manufactured by us through holiday events or gift giving – they are presents to us: a hope for the future, a peace that comes with knowing we’ll weather storms, and a joy that arises even when there’s no reason for it. And it’s all because of the humble birth of a baby some 2,000 years ago.