What makes the Holidays so magical?

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A light blue twinkle permeates my vision. A whoosh of air signals that I am no longer standing at the entrance to a “shuttle simulator” ride in Las Vegas’s Star Trek: The Experience.

I’ve been transported to the USS Enterprise-D’s transporter room. Starfleet officers stare back at me, visibly relieved that I materialized in one piece.

I am not hallucinating. I am not plastered. This is real life. To this day I have no idea how they did it.

Quick-as-you-can-say Energize, I am standing in a totally different room than I had been before. A moment later they escort me to a turbolift.

My breath catches in my chest as the turbolift doors open to the bridge of the USS Enterprise D.

A religious experience? This is much, much more than that. I. have. no. words. Nothing adequate to describe this moment.

You know, I’ve met William Shatner, got my picture with him:

Nick and Shatner

I was nervous to meet him. I’ve given speeches to thousands of people with fewer jitters. Seriously, I rehearsed saying “Hello”. The man is a living legend, someone I admire. Stepping onto the bridge of the Enterprise was not like meeting Shatner.

Shatner isn’t really Kirk. Even though it’s wickedly cool to get to meet him, you know that Captain Kirk was really Shatner plus a whole slew of writers providing amazingly prolific words.

Stepping onto the bridge of the Enterprise was… something else. This was the bridge of the Enterprise. And you’re looking at it. And you can touch it. And you can smell it. And the officers are looking at you.

And you’re there.

I’ve had only two moments in life that topped it: the first time I saw Stacy and the birth of our kiddo.

A stranger on the street wouldn’t have shared my reverence, just like I shirk moments that other people live for.

I abhor roller coasters. And carnival rides. And heights. I’d rather crawl a mountain of live snakes than climb a ladder. And I’m fairly certain I’d never be able to skydive, and even if I did, I’m pretty sure I’d be most happy about it being over.

Holidays, in particular – Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Years – possess a special sort of reverence in our culture. But the reverence is specific and segmented based on your particular experience and expectations that you build around these days.

Let me describe five kinds of Christmas for you:

  • A sacred, love-filled time based around religion.
  • A sacred, fun-filled time based around family gathering.
  • A sacred, selfless time based around volunteering for folks in need.
  • A not-so-sacred, appreciation-filled time based primarily around friends, giving and receiving.
  • A not-so-sacred, but still fun time primarily to decorate and be the brightest lit house on the block.

Chances are, one of those is most similar to your experience and expectations than not, or maybe a combo. But at least one of those things on the list never made the cut, yet it’s still a perfectly valid way TONS of people share Christmas.

Some folks are so fervent about their particular version of Christmas that other versions are not just aberrations, they’re downright offensive. A Secular Humanist may or may not look at a Catholic Christian’s views with contempt (and vice versa). But both might express identical wonder and joy during Christmas. Make them trade shoes for that day and that wonder and joy are suddenly diminished because they don’t share the reverence for that particular version.

Take the three kinds of Valentine’s Day participants: those who go all out to make an effort to show love and appreciation, those who do the “bare basics” – chocolate and flowers, and those who celebrate Singles Awareness Day instead (whether they’re attached or not). They vehemently stick to their guns as “the right choice” no matter which route they believe in.

Reverence – magic – is made of, and specific to, the experiences and expectations of the people sharing it. In short, it’s a shared narrative about how, what, when, where, and why something happens.

Reverence is built on shared archetypes. Archetypes are important, y’all. Archetypes are similar to myths, in that they’re big, grand ideas of how a story flows. It’s a concept of a story (good vs evil, person vs nature, but a little more specific).

Specifically: archetypes affect you by way of the idea that “people like me adore things like this”.

This sort of shared reverence isn’t the sole purview of holidays. Archetypes pop up everywhere.

How long is a day? Did you say 24 hours? How long is a year? Did you say 365.25 days? Close, but not quite.

I don’t mean to alarm you, but the neat and orderly world you know and rely on is largely a figment of your imagination based on a set of mutually agreed upon lies so that most people can play, more or less, by the same rules.

If you’re a sociopath, stop reading now.

What does this mean? If a year isn’t 365 days and a day isn’t 24 hours and the winter solstice isn’t necessarily the darkest morning of the year – but everybody acts as if it is?

And what does it mean – pointing back to the comic above – when humanity can land a spacecraft on a comet, but we have a hard time centering things on a website?

It means that the “rules of the game” – of life, of business, of… you name it – are somewhat bendy. The applications of practicing a year in sidereal days are less practical than imagining a world in which you, your business, your product, can make a real impact.

Everything is relative to the narratives you share and the archetypes you believe in.

If you’re out to hurt people, or swindle them, this idea won’t take you very far. The law is still the law. On the other hand, if you’re out to make a real difference, impact some lives for the better, you might just have a shot.

Consider Apple. They’re making the technology I wished for as a kid. Hand-held computers like the ones I saw on Star Trek? Yes, please. The first time I powered up my iPad, I knew we were living in a magical time. That the power to create anything was at my fingertips. The power to connect with anyone was right there. I can have a face-to-face conversation with anyone from a computer I can hold in my hands. Their advertising only reinforces that shared narrative.

Consider the Ice Bucket Challenge. Started by someone with ALS, spreading person-by-person, until finally almost anyone who was anyone was making one of those silly videos and uploading it to YouTube, then donating money to charity. The shared narrative was that a few moments of mutual discomfort was a worthy price to pay to be “part of the club”.

Everything is relative to the narratives you share and the archetypes you believe in.

First thing, in 2015, I want you to stop and consider the narratives you share and the archetypes you believe in.

Which ones do your customers share? Which ones do they get energized by? Which ones do they fucking hate?

Struggling with this? I’m working on a guide that will help you – let me know in the comments if you’d like to help me test it!