Friday, December 07, 2007

The True Spirit of...

(Reprinted with permission from Hot Psychology, December, 2005)

As I sit in the waiting room of my local auto mechanic’s, I watch the activities across the street on the lawn of the Intermediate school. Town workers are stringing up holiday lights on one of the huge evergreen trees, and I realize that this task is probably being performed in many other town squares as well. It’s only mid November, but the day is mild, perfect for this kind of chore and besides; Christmas is coming soon.

And now it starts. First panic, then a sad kind of guilt. What a shame for such a wonderful celebration to induce such distress. In these feelings, I know I’m not alone, but I’m not sure how comforting that really is.

Those who celebrate Christmas are commemorating the birth of Jesus the Christ. We give gifts, because it's a birthday, and because it’s symbolic of the gifts of the Magi - the three wise and royal visitors that came to see the New Lord. The sad thing is, when we shop for these gifts, we are sometimes forced into purchasing way past our limits. We don't want to disappoint a child, a spouse, or favorite aunt. Little by little, the spirit behind the giving is eroding; the meaning is diminished. It's not just in the endless shopping and spending, we suddenly feel obligated to over extend ourselves with our time and talents. Children's school activities, church activities, work parties, family traditions, baking, wrapping... wait, what was this day about? Hey, a little over extending is fine at times. I think Jesus more than did his share – but what we are sometimes reduced to, becomes soulless.

Here is a chance to discover what about Christmas, and other ‘winter holidays’ that really strikes a chord within us. What makes them special that we can take with us the whole year, no matter what our religion or culture? What is the True Spirit behind these festivities?

Most of the other celebrations around this time of year don’t seem to invoke these anxious feelings, at least not to the same extent. Hanukkah has not been a major holiday on the Jewish calendar, but as the 20th century progressed, Christmas was becoming more and more recognized in the Western world. In turn, Hanukkah was seen as a both a celebration of the reinstatement of Jewish dominion in Israel, and also because it was a December family oriented and gift-giving celebration, some thought it would make a good substitution for Christmas.

Today some Jews do feel the pressure of giving more or bigger gifts, in an unspoken competition with Christmas commercialism. Others have said they feel other pressures in decorating or entertaining, or as one put it, “keeping up with the Cohens”. Most though, keep things more simple, and take pleasure in the tradition of the Menorah, the prayers, and the feasting. They venerate the second century struggle against Hellenistic occupation in Israel, the restoration of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the consecrated oil that was only enough to burn for one day, but amazingly lasted for eight more.

Another holiday, Kwanzaa, is only 40 years young. Though this celebration is cultural, rather than religious, it is still lumped in with Christmas and Hanukkah, only by virtue of it being celebrated in December. Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili “matunda ya kwanza”, which means “first fruits”. Though it was founded in order to give African Americans an alternative to an over commercialized Christmas, Kwanzaa celebrates seven ideals, or principles that we can all strive towards: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith.

When we feel that winter gloom descend, it helps to contemplate on what these days are meant to be about. We should celebrate the miracle of light when we can turn on electricity in our house with out a second thought. We should honor the Self-Determination, Collective Work and Faith of those early Jews, and nurture it in our selves and in our children - every day. In remembering the birth of the Savior, we delight in the thought of the miraculous.
When my husband was younger, someone on his Dad’s side of the family started a unique gift giving tradition. They always gathered at one family member’s house or another, usually a week or so after Christmas. At some point during the day, a mysterious package would show up labeled for one person in the family, with no return address. The package would sometimes be delivered by a taxi, be stuffed in a mailbox, left on a doorstep or appear in the garage.

Inside would be all kinds of goodies, a little smorgasbord of presents specially picked out for that one person. Each year of course, the gifts – and recipient – would change, but there was always the same card tucked among the treasures – a small white card with red writing that year after year, bore the same message:

“Have a Merry Christmas in Your Heart --
From The True Spirit of Christmas”.

How fantastic is that? Sincere wishes for real honest-to-goodness happiness. What the Giver – the True Spirit -- had to do through out the year while preparing this package of joy, was to really consider what would be special for the recipient. This is the celebration of another person at it’s best.

No matter what the holiday, there is always the potential for wonder, the possibility of miracles. Even if the miracle is a bit contrived, like Santa Claus, doesn’t your breath catch, when you watch a young child’s eyes light up at the sight of an unexplained filled stocking? How about the reaction of a desperate parent on hearing that monies raised from a benefit party will more than pay for their child’s medical bills? Miraculous. Even when we think we want an explanation, most of us, because of our faith, are content with the unknown. And what of our own family mystery gift?

Of course everyone guessed at the identity of our True Spirit. Some more enterprising family members put much energy into the conundrum, comparing notes and deconstructing each gift-giving event. Most of us though, preferred to just enjoy the whole mystery and accept it. At some point the quiet speculation led them to guess it was the family patriarch, Raymond. When he died, the family expected that the custom had died as well. Or had it?

The following Christmas – the package arrived again.

Have a Merry Christmas in your heart.

1 comment:

Mrs A said...

I'm having a Merry Christmas in my heart this year. Thanks for your post.