A Few Thoughts on the Meaning of Christmas

As I’ve grown older, the glistening promise of the winter holiday has become a little tarnished. That’s not to say I haven’t had wonderful Christmases, because I have, but there have been some horrendous ones, as well.

I think that’s true of many people. Presence of the celebration during a time of trial serves to highlight any misery we might be suffering, especially if we are alone. There are also the expectations of the season perpetrated on us by marketers, our sense of  tradition and even our own greed; expectations that cannot be realistically met much of the time.

The result might be a vague, is-that-all-there-is feeling we get at 11 o’clock Christmas morning, sitting in a room knee-deep in wrapping paper, piled high with the booty of the season of giving — or is it “getting?”

A friend teased me once that he already knows my life story from reading my writing. What he doesn’t know is that I often write for my own entertainment and education; as if my fingers know something that I don’t; as if they have access to ideas that are stored someplace other than the outer edges of my brain. The words sometimes seem to flow out of my hands, and even I am surprised at what appears on the page.

That is a gift — a true gift — one that I can be grateful for Christmas morning or any morning; and it didn’t come wrapped in ribbon and colored paper, but in the complicated spiral of acids and proteins that is my DNA. We all have gifts like that, packed within us when we arrived, blessings to be unwrapped as we delve deeper into ourselves and discover who we truly are.

The greatest gift that we can get, then, is one we can give ourselves, and that is a sense of gratitude for who and what we are. The greatest gift we can give others is that representation of ourselves that most truly expresses the good gifts we were given.

It hasn’t much to do with red and gold paper and credit cards, does it?

As we begin to see our own gifts, we also begin to see gifts that others have received and have to offer; a sense of humor, patience, a loving nature, a beautiful smile, lovely eyes, a sense of balance, good health, a delight in living. Physical, spiritual or emotional grace. Eyes to see, ears to hear, a tongue to extoll the wonders of the Universe, a God to pray to, hope, faith and love.

The list is hardly original. These are the gifts that we have in common with all people from all time. In the time and place we live, we also have the opportunity to make the most of them. Here in these United States of America, we are probably the most blessed generations of people who have ever lived on the face of this planet.

Consider that the great freedoms we enjoy are nothing more than an accident of birth; that the spirit dwelling within each of us could just as easily inhabit a body in Iraq, Somalia or a slum in India. Yet, on Christmas morning, how many of us will be disappointed because we got a pair of socks or a tie or yet another paperback? How many children will be devastated because that specially marketed toy they had high hope set upon — and yet would find completely boring by one o’clock Christmas afternoon — is not there?

In the Christian world, the promise of the season is the Christ child, the infant savior. But, there is something deeper to find in the symbols of birth and seasonal turning point and stars hovering above a miracle; something beneath the questions of faith, dogma and just whose child that child is. After all, we are all children of the Universe.

Perhaps the message of Christmas is that each child born, with its own unique gifts, has the capacity and the potential to be a savior; perhaps not for an entire race, but certainly for some of the many people they will encounter in their lifetime.

Maybe we should try expecting nothing on Christmas morning, and let each small moment be a gift, and each person we encounter, and each thing that we discover within ourselves that might make a difference in our poor, old world should we take the time and the chance to share it with others.

Merry Christmas, friends, and Happy New Year. May your personal gifts shine year around.