PITTSFIELD >> It hasn't felt like Christmas in the Berkshires this year. But the holiday is coming anyway, and with the holiday less than a week away, the business of Christmas is beginning to shift into overdrive.

If you're getting tired of the endless commercialism that comes with this time of year here's a way to experience the real meaning of the season.

Instead of shopping, or eating, or partying, or lighting up your house like a Las Vegas casino, how about doing something that's simple but meaningful.

Reach out to someone who needs a hand. Call someone you might not have spoken to for awhile. Visit a relative who may be sick or is a shut-in. It's a simple gesture, but it means a lot to the person who's receiving it. The holidays are difficult for people who are by themselves or have trouble getting around. Reaching out to them, even if it's just to say hello, means more to them than you can imagine.

Here's something else you can do: be nice to people. Say hello when you pass someone on the sidewalk. Better yet, smile when you walk by someone. This is the time of the season for giving, so give of yourself. It makes people feel better, and it may help you.


This may all sound corny, like Pollyanna advice from someone who lives in a place where everything is rainbows and moonbeams. But helping people and being nice to them is what the Christmas season is supposed to be all about. It's easy to lose sight of that fact when we're surrounded by the orgy of consumerism we normally see at this time of the year.

You get tired of listening to endless blather about made-up shopping days like Black Friday, Super Saturday and Cyber Monday. Sales figures are treated as seriously as job statistics or unemployment numbers. It's marketing gone crazy. Endless hype can't be all that were about anymore, can it? I certainly hope not.

Gift giving is part of the Christmas tradition, don't get me wrong. But it needs to be kept in moderation. It's not all Christmas is about, and it never was.

It's easy to lose sight of that fact at this time of year. An emphasis on selling at Christmastime has been around for as long as I can remember, but modern technology has definitely made this phenomenon worse. Maybe it's because of the economy and the fact that retailers make most of their money at this time of year. Or maybe it's because traditional holiday values like simply being nice to each other seem to have, regrettably, gone out of style. In the modern world, everyone everywhere believes they're entitled to their opinion, no matter how ridiculous it might be.

Technology is partly to blame for all this. Computers and mobile phones make it easier than ever for people to be in touch with one another, but they also tend to dehumanize us. It's hard to be close to anyone emotionally when you text, tweet and email all the time, because you never see who you're speaking with. On the Internet, anyone can say whatever they want any time they feel like it and not be held accountable. It wasn't intended this way, but the Internet's become a great refuge for bullies and cowards.

With modern technology, conversations are just words on a screen. The human element, the connections that we have for each other, often don't translate as well. Imagine being a shut-in and having someone text you a Merry Christmas greeting. What does that mean exactly? It's always nice to hear from anyone when you're in that situation, but when you can't see them or actually speak with them something gets lost in the translation. Communication becomes impersonal. I don't know about you, but I'd rather speak with a live person instead of receiving a message. I hope you would, too.

This column is dedicated to someone I know who was the living embodiment of caring and giving for people. Giving was ingrained in his DNA. It was as natural to him as waking up in the morning. He cared deeply about his community in many ways. I learned a lot about life from him through our conversations. He will be missed, not just by me, but by many people. He's gone now, so this is the only way for me to wish him a Merry Christmas.

So reach out and connect with someone during the holiday season. It's never too late, and they'll be glad that you did.

Tony Dobrowolski is the business editor of The Berkshire Eagle. He can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com.