By Dave Hood
What is the meaning of Christmas? It all depends. For many, Christmas is a sad time. It reminds people of their losses, perhaps a failed marriage, or death of loved one, or being out of work. It is also a sad time because it reminds people of what they desire, a loving relationship instead of being alone, by one’s self.
For many, Christmas has lost its true meaning: just an excuse for retails to sell their merchandise to consumers who feel pressure to give expensive gifts to people who don’t really need another iPhone upgrade or bottle of perfume.
For many children, Christmas means Santa Claus visiting on Christmas eve, placing gifts, such as iPhones, Barbie dolls, Transformers, and other gifts of delight under the Christmas tree. For other children, Christmas is a time to doubt the existence of Santa. A century ago a young child named Virginia wrote a letter to the newspaper, inquiring about whether Santa existed. The newspaper responded with these words,”“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”
For some, Christmas is a holiday, a time of escape from a stressful, overworked career or dreary, mindless work. It’s a day to relax, spend time with the girlfriend, the spouse, the kids.
For some, Christmas is still a religious event, a sacred occasion to celebrate the birth of Christ, through singing of Christmas Carols at a church service, attending midnight mass, listening to the message, engaging in prayer and other religious rituals. Pope Francis reminds us that” Christmas is joy, religious joy, an inner joy of light and peace.”
Public figures have said many things about Christmas:Bob Hope, the comedian and entertainer once said, “My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”
The late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher commented, “Christmas is a day of meaning and traditions, a special day spent in the warm circle of family and friends.”
Singer/songwriter, Amy Grant, tells us, “Faith is salted and peppered through everything at Christmas. And I love at least one night by the Christmas tree to sing and feel the quiet holiness of that time that’s set apart to celebrate love, friendship, and God’s gift of the Christ child.”
For me, Christmas is all of these meanings and more. Despite the stress, the loss, the materialism, the symbols of the season, the doubts of faith, I still believe in celebration, listening to Christmas Carols, putting up the tree, perhaps attending a church service, watching shows and films with a Christmas theme, such as White Christmas or Christmas on 34th Street, exchanging of small gifts, spending time with my elderly parents and girlfriend, savoring a turkey dinner, remember those who have died— grandmothers, uncles, aunts, as well as relationships that have drifted. Most important, Christmas is about goodwill and peace to others, if only for a day.
For me, Christmastime also means contemplating another passing year, making New Years Resolutions, bringing in the New Year with a few beers with a friend, expressing hope for the future.I’m counting my blessings for another year of relative happiness and good physical and mental health.
Without celebration, daily life becomes a grind. Without celebration, daily life becomes routine, and so Christmas is just another ordinary day. One risks experiencing existential angst, living a life without meaning or purpose at Christmas. Life is far too short. And so, while we are here, we must find a way to enjoy it. Celebration nurtures the spiritual within us. Christmas is a time to celebrate.
Finding the real joy of Christmas comes not in the rushing to the mall, purchasing more gifts. Nor is it uncovered by trying to make Christmas the perfect celebration, nor is it felt by taking on the spirit of Scrooge, expressing words that are like, “humbug to Christmas.” We discover joy when we learn to savor the particulars of the Christmas season. Savoring requires us to stop and be mindful, to experience the celebration with our senses. For instance, we can use our hearing to listen to the beautiful Christmas Carols, such as O Holy Night. We can use our sight to fill the soul with the decorations and colors of the Christmas tree. We can use our taste to appreciate a tasty turkey dinner.
“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, former President)