My weekly newspaper column:
“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ” ~ Norman Vincent Peale
It is hot (as in 40 degrees C) in Australia right now, which could explain why a blog friend of mine has decided to discard Christmas for the time being. But her real reasons are far beyond the discomfort of the heat. Her husband is in a nursing home with advanced Parkinson’s; her teenage son has back surgery on Tuesday; the same son was in an awful accident not too long ago which put several of his younger cousins in the hospital — he has been charged and must go to court and may face jail—all because he was trying to give them a bit of fun; her stove has stopped working so there is nowhere to cook the turkey; and she just cannot face the added pressure of shopping and decorating and cooking for Christmas. When she broached the subject with her son, he agreed—in light of all that was going on in their lives, Christmas was not a bright light, but a responsibility which overshadowed their joy.
They did make one concession though. They are going to go to church on Christmas. My first reaction when I read of their decision to forego the splash that is Christmas was one of pity, and I could not help but think about what they would miss out on. But are they really missing out? They have made a decision to celebrate what they truly believe Christmas is about—the spirituality, and erase all the extras, except for a visit from the son’s grandma which was his one concession to the season.
I love the hurly burliness of the Christmas season and even when I have had to face the loss of some of those closest to me at the “happiest” time of the year, I have been able to celebrate, though a bit more sombrely and with a little less sparkle. I find the Christmas season cheers me up—there is something in the air and it seems merrily contagious. For the most part people are kinder, they smile more, and they greet friends and family and even strangers a bit more heartily. The lights on our trees and houses and decorations bring a brightness to an otherwise dark time of year.
I love all the things Christmas—but I understand when the pressure to create a perfect holiday makes it less than merry and bright. Some people find blessings in the spirituality of the season and like my Australian friend this year discard what they think of as the commercialization and crassness of Christmas. I embrace the spirituality of the season, but the others parts of Christmas are close to my heart too. Yes, Christmas has been commercialized, but we can make our choice as to the extent we want that aspect to enter into our celebrations.
I think Dr. Seuss had something when he had the Grinch (of How the Grinch Stole Christmas fame) reflect on what Christmas was all about. This excerpt from the book (and movie of the same name) says it all: “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
Humourist Dave Barry puts a little different perspective on the whole question of Christmas, and though skewed for laughs, he covers several bases:“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall’!”
Only you can answer the question of the meaning of Christmas and only you can decide how to celebrate it. I am kind of partial to how President Calvin Coolidge defined it on Christmas Day, 1927 in his Presidential address: “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
What does Christmas mean to you?