The Christmas Spirit
Every year, I fall into the same trap. I overhear some co-workers or friends talking up all the things the bought for their wives/girlfriends. New cars, rose gold watches (What in the name of the ghost of Harry Caray is rose gold anyway? Did they discover some new kind of gold I haven’t even heard of?!?!), new coats, new this, new that. At some point between Thanksgiving and Gaudete Sunday I think:
“Should I be buying way more for my loved ones than I can afford? What object best defines my love for my wife and children? Could it be a candle of some kind? Which scent best defines my love for my wife? Is it apple blossom or vanilla sugar bean?”
This inevitably leads to a certain gloomy disposition; for how can I express my love in a monetary way effectively to those I love? I think this thought is both unfortunate and rather common. This thought is probably responsible for much of the sadness that exists around Christmas, a time that should be filled with cheer and joy at the Lord’s coming, the Incarnation of Christ the King. But let me back up a bit.
Growing up, my parents went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that Christmas was a time of joy for all of us kids. My Dad would work extra games as a referee and Mom would bake a seemingly endless number of cookies. Christmas dinner always featured some very fine cuts of meat, and was always eaten on the nice china. Presents – there were many, often so many that on Christmas morning one couldn’t access the tree without first opening at least 3 or 4 presents to clear a path. We had a wonderful breakfast, often sticky buns and egg casserole and then it was off to Mass or to Grandma and Grandpa’s if we had been to Mass the night before. Even the day decorating the tree was a festival in itself. Even into high school we would all try very hard to be present on this day where we got out the old ornaments like the pine cone with two eyes glued on or the popsicle stick picture frame. Despite our persistence to discard these “ornaments” we must extend kudos to my mother for keeping most of them. The tree was always a real tree so the pine smell wafted throughout the house all Advent long. Needless to say, it was easy to feel and experience the “Christmas spirit.”
The way I define the “Christmas spirit” is as a feeling of warm, calm serenity during the time around Christmas. Often as a child I would sit under or near the tree and stare up at the lights and feel very calm and simply happy. Other situations that elicit such a response are time with family, coming down the stairs on Christmas morning, playing a new video game newly opened, driving around to look at Christmas lights, giving a really good present to someone, etc. However, as I grew older, I felt the “Christmas Spirit” less and less until eventually I didn’t feel it at all as I once did as a child.
But, this year saw a return of the “Christmas spirit.” It came in two forms. First, as I watched my children open their gifts and get the look of joy in their eyes, I felt once again a feeling similar to the one I felt as a child myself. Being able to give a child some happiness through new socks, or new pajamas, or a dump truck is a wonderful thing. But to teach a child why they are getting that truck is quite another. We kept a nativity scene below the tree throughout Advent to help build the anticipation for Christ’s coming. We kept the Advent wreath out and visible. We celebrated St. Nicholas’ feast day on December 6th. The coming of the Christ child was greatly anticipated in our house. One of the things to emphasize for the children, I’m discovering, is the reality that the joy of the season is in Christ’s coming.
The second place I feel something of the old Christmas spirit is at Mass. I think it has been since our daughter was born, but after holding and caring for a small child, it’s nothing short of astounding to realize that the eternal Word of God became a small child himself. There is a depth to ponder there that fills the human mind during the Christmas season. Christ made himself so available to the human heart that he became a baby, which every human heart naturally is drawn to care for and cherish.
So, something of the childish Christmas spirit may fade over the years. But, I think it is replaced by a more deep and profound presence that fills the human heart. This deep and profound presence comes from the realization that Christ himself became a small child and in the ability to convey that reality to our own children.