Only If Christmas lives in your heart, will you find it underneath your tree.
Long ago, and probably still does in some places, the first sign of Christmas emerged from the Church’s liturgical year and from behind the pulpit. Priests and pastors prepared their expectant flocks for the nativity by marking time in advent, an opportunity to contemplate the great gift of Jesus the Savior, the state of one’s worthiness, and the hope for his second coming.
During this time, the gifts, feasting, and family gatherings were physical symbols of a spiritual reality. The entire holiday centered on and observed the birth of Jesus, God’s gift for humankind’s salvation. We feasted on God’s providence, shared those gifts, and gathered in solidarity and strength against coming winter.
Over time, as you surely know, the world grew more capitalist in nature, and those symbols became something businesses took advantage of. Our sincere spirituality and love for friends and family gave them opportunities for instilling in us a very profitable guilt.
Today, the early signs of what is called “the holiday season” begin as business men and women open the advertising floodgates from every media outlet and their stores prepare lavish displays of tinsel, lights and cottony snow. Their goal is to entice buyers to spend their earnings by making them aware of how little money they need to fulfill their dreams and how much more they’d spend elsewhere.
I cringe a little when someone asks me, “How was your Christmas?” I know they mean well, but they’re not asking me about my holiday in a spiritual sense. For many people, maybe most, Christmas is only gifts, family gatherings, and feasting. None of those are wrong. But without the underpinnings of the Christ story, they are fleeting pleasures that miss the permanence that underlays the season.
Without that permanence, there’s often a post-Christmas let down, poignantly expressed by best-selling author, Jeff Goins, as a kind of lament. He writes, The (post-Christmas) mixed emotions collide and cloud our vision. Was it the best day of the year, or the worst? Did we find the true spirit of Christmas and recapture child-like wonder? Or did we lose another piece of our innocence to the cynicism of adulthood?” Even if you aren’t a Christian, the actions taken during Christmas depend on something deeper in order to not suffer from a cheapening futility.
But Christmas doesn’t have to suffer from the cheapening merchandising of the holiday. It can be revitalized by restoring the symbols and transforming our intent.
I have a suggestion. Instead of cringing, taking the easy way out and avoiding the truth, what about donating to a charity? Then you can tell people, “My holiday was good. I donated my time/my talent/my money, to Amnesty international/Women’s Shelters of America, Etc.” Wouldn’t that be better, turning yourself into a beacon of light instead of being disingenuous?
Our small efforts may seem futile in the face of searing family memories and worldly realities, but the world has always had dark places in it. And every life been touched by loss. Those realities, as Jesus said, will be with us always. We have to press on.
I’m not suggesting that these common tragedies are unworthy of deep feelings. I suggest grieving in the light instead of the shadows. Honor your lost and do something in their name, work with them side by side once more.
As far as the hard realities, shine your light of charity and love into what crannies you can reach, but don’t blacken your holiday with what’s beyond your control–leave that to a greater omniscience than your own.
The experience of every holiday is personal rather than societal. Even though I am inundated with ads and other influences, they flow over me like water because I see them for what they are. You see them truly, too. Let them pass unheeded. The experiences I share with my family have nothing to do with that falseness. I purchase gifts with a sincere eye for each person’s needs and hopes. We decorate our home to celebrate the joy of gratefulness we feel. After all, every holiday begins and ends in your own heart.