“What’s the True Meaning of Christmas?”

By Dave Hood

It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.—W. T. Ellis

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.—-Calvin Coolidge

Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.—Washington Irving

What’s the true meaning of Christmas? Most people will give you a different answer.

We’re only a few days from Christmas—and there’s still no snow in the city of Toronto. We can still see the decaying autumn leaves and the withered grass of autumn. It appears that we’re going to have a green Christmas. For some people, Christmas means snow on the ground.  A white Christmas. The wonders of a snowfall help inspire them get into the festive mood, enjoy the holiday. This is certainly true for Canada. A blanket of snow is just part of the tradition of an idyllic Christmas, one that is picturesque like the front of a snow scene on a Christmas Card.

 For many people, the first thought that pops into their head when they think of Christmas is shopping for Christmas gifts. You’re bombarded with advertisements of pre-Boxing Day sales.There’s talk of sales in the flyer that’s been delivered to your door, on the radio, in the mall for that perfect you’re searching for.

Christmas means carols. In mid November, You begin to hear Christmas carols on the radio. Then, when I’m shopping at the local mall, you are bombarded with the loud noise of endless Christmas music.

Christmas means crowds. When you arrive into the mall,you often enter a parking lot that is full. The other day, I circled the mall in my SUV, searching for a spot, and then leaving, when I when couldn’t find an empty spot. If you purchase a gift, you must often line up in a long line. It seem to take forever to pay for the gift.

Christmas can be stressful. While shopping, many people worry about charging the credit card for too many gifts, which no one seems to need.

Christmas is often hard work. First, you must purchase and put up a Christmas tree, and then decorate it with lights and ornaments. After purchasing gifts,you must rush home, wrap the gifts, clean the house, entertain members of the extended family you haven’t seen in a year. You must prepare the turkey dinner, and then wash dishes afterwards.

For the cynical, Christmas is associated with commercialism, the acquisition of insignificant things, excess spending on gifts like tech gadgets, video games, gift cards, toys that are wants. Christmas often means spending too much on buying gifts with credit cards, going into debt, requiring the entire following year to pay the debt.

For the believer, Christmas is a spiritual event. It means the celebration of the birth of Christ, listening to the Christmas Story at church, attending midnight mass on Christmas eve, reflecting on the meaning of Christmas, praying to loved ones who have died.

For children, Christmas is a pleasurable time. It means to Santa Clause at the mall or sending a Christmas Wish List to Santa at the North Pole. Christmas is also the time children find delight in the anticipation of Santa coming down the chimney, leaving gifts under the Christmas tree.

There is the lore of Christmas, which appeals to Children. In 1897 a child named Virginia wrote a letter to the editor, asking if Santa Clause was real. With the passage of time, the letter, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause” has become part of the expanding Christmas lore. The editor responded with a poignant letter that speaks to all of humankind, not only children:

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies!” (To read the entire letter, you can visit: http://www.newseum.org/yesvirginia/)

For the secular, Christmas has come to mean many different things, such holiday parties, an escape from the drudgery of work;cutting down, putting up the Christmas tree, decorating it with lights and tinsel; gift giving to loved ones; sharing a turkey dinner with friends and family.

For the altruist or those who care about the poor or less fortunate, Christmas means giving to charity, such as the Santa Clause Fund, which uses the donations to purchase gifts for children of families of the needy; donating to the Salvation Army, a popular charity that helps those in need; volunteering in a soup kitchen, serving turkey dinner for the homeless who visit.

For all of us, believer and non-believer, Christmas is suppose to be a time of joy and happiness, if only for a few days. However, many people Christmas is a lonely time, spent by themselves in solitude at home, with just a television set. This is certainly true for people who are single, without children, few friends, or family. So, Christmas reminds the lonely soul of what they’re  missing in their lives—happiness, a loving relationship, a close, caring family.

For many years, I loathed Christmastime. I wasn’t very happy in my personal life—my marriage had ended, and I had to spend Christmas day alone in a one bedroom apartment. It was a depressing experience, like attending a funeral. It was a very sad time of reflection—reminding me of what Id lost in a marriage that had crumbled. I promised myself that I would never spend Christmas by myself again—and that I would find a way to relish the holiday season. For the next few years, I reinvented myself, discovered how to find happiness.

One of the things I learned is that Christmas is a “state of mind,” a person must make a personal decision to experience the joy and happiness that Christmastime brings. It is a gift that everyone can experience and savour. Yet, many people take it for granted–or refuse to appreciate its benefits. Life is short we must live each opportunity. The season of Christmas is just one of many life’s encounters that we can embrace–and obtain happiness from.

There are many things about Christmas that I take delight from. In fact, it’s my favorite time of year. I embrace the traditions.  I enjoy the popular culture of Christmas–watching the Christmas specials on television, classics like “Rudolph” and listening Burl Ives singing “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas”; viewing the animated classic “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”; and the classic holiday films “Christmas on 34th Street”, and Charles Dickens’s adaptation “The Christmas Carols”, starring Alistair Sims. My favorite Christmas special, one I watch each year, is Charles Schultz’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. (Click here to watch a clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKk9rv2hUfA ). Since I was a child in 1966, I watched this special each year on television. Now I view it on the DVD.

I also enjoy listening to the traditional Christmas carols, like” The First Noel” or “Oh, Holly Night.” But I find delight by listening the new renditions that are released each year. There is not a Christmas Season that goes by without a new Christmas song being added to the collection of Christmas Classics. A few years ago, I heard the new Christmas song “The River” by Sarah McLaughlin. ( You can listen by clicking the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nx_FuwvgzaE )It  is now my favourite contemporary Christmas song.

A Christmas tree is part of the long tradition of the holiday. It means a pine or spruce tree. For many years, we cut down a real tree or purchased at the Christmas Tree lot, enjoyed the ritual of decorating the tree, and watching the splendour of the coloured lights.

Chris Green wrote down his views of significance of the Christmas Tree with his poem “Tree Christmas Tree Lots:”

Christmas trees lined like war refugees,
a fallen army made to stand in their greens
Cut down at the foot, on their last leg,
they pull themselves up, arms raised.
We drop them like wood;
tied, they are driven through the streets,
dragged through the door, cornered
in a room, given a single blanket
only water to drink, surrounded by joy.
Forced to wear a gaudy gold star,
to surrender their pride,
they do their best to look alive.

Yet, many people are now buying artificial trees. We have a three-foot artificial Christmas tree in the living room that sparkles in darkness of the evening, like a real tree.

Exchanging gift is part of the tradition of Christmas. I delight in buying gifts for loved ones, but I wish I had more money to spend—to buy that perfect gift. It’s also a thrill to receive a surprise gift that you want or need.Gift giving has special significance. It is a way to express or love and appreciation for those who add meaning and purpose to our lives. Gift giving is a way of thanking others who enable us to feel loved, respected, part of a clan.

Christmas reminds us to give to those in need, to those people who are less fortunate than ourselves. Having a charitable heart is important. Christmas often evokes kindness, compassion, empathy. And so, we give donations to charities, like those that help the poor or homeless.Christmas is about spending time with family.

On Christmas Eve, I always get together with my son, brothers and their families, mother, dad and his wife, who I haven’t seen in a while. We partake in some Christmas cheer, share a few laugh, reminisce about the past, catch up on each other’s lives,  eat a delicious turkey dinner, and exchange a few gifts.  This year, dad and his wife won’t be with us. They’re vacationing in the sunshine on a sandy beach in Florida. It’s the first time I haven’t seen dad during on Christmas eve—a rehearsal for something more permanent.

Christmas is also a time to remember those loved ones who celebrated Christmas past with us, and are now gone. At Christmas, I always remember my late Grandma Marie who died a short time ago from dementia. She loved opening Christmas gifts and visiting with us. And when I recall past Christmas’s, I remember other family who passed on to another place, gone except for the memories of Christmas photographs.

So, for many reasons, Christmas has special meaning for me. Poet, Wadsworth Longfellow, defined the meaning of Christmas best when he wrote:
“I heard the bells on Christmas Day.
Their old familiar carols play.
And wild and sweet the words repeat.
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

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About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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