If I were to write all my thoughts on what overwhelms my Christmas this year, you’d be staring at a blank page.
That’s right, the duke of Christmas fell off his horse somewhere, currently suffering from emotional amnesia that may very well turn into a permanent case of spiritual cancer. Well, that’s my personal diagnosis anyway, though I haven’t checked WebMD yet. Or Oprah.
As everyone knows or should know by now, in 1897 a girl named Virginia had a dilemma. Her friends were claiming that Santa Claus wasn’t real. Upset by this mean spirited “assertion
,” Virginia turned to her mother to ask if Santa truly existed. Her mother replied that if Virginia saw “it in the New York Sun, then it must be so.” So the quick thinking lass wrote to the editor of the newspaper, and his response (which I will reprint at the end of this) has since become the most eloquent summation of the essence of Santa Claus and Christmas.
Bah humbug! That would have been Scrooge’s response. In this age of internet trolling and media bashing, the vitriol would probably be exponentially worse.
Donald Trump would be shaming Virginia for learning to potty, the Bern might lecture her on the evils of Santa’s commercialization of Christmas and deplorable conditions in his manufacturing and distribution plant (not to mention destroying the North Pole. Drill baby, drill!). Little Teddie Cruz would tell her the old geezer was banned from crossing the border, Jeb would be belting “three Bushes in the White House, two orange Trumps and a partridge in a pear tree,” Dr. Carson might confuse him with the Easter Bunny and Rubio won’t show up to answer questions at all. Only Hillary would save the day by neither confirming nor denying Santa’s existence. (In fact, rumor has it that he and the other Mr. Claus already reserved a night in the Lincoln bedroom, Christmas Day 2017. Go Bill… I mean Hill!!!)
As a Roman Catholic, I never believed in Santa Claus, at least not in the jolly old bearded fellow in red robes. I grew up believing in the magic of Christmas arising from these words, the cornerstone of my faith: That God so loved the world that He sent His only Begotten Son.” That was the ultimate gift. The message of Christmas to me is a message of love.
As for the tradition of exchanging presents, ours was tailored after the story of the three kings. Yes, we call them kings not wise men because central to this version is the message of wealth inequality. They were men of affluence and wisdom who nevertheless gave the best they had to honor the infant born in a manger. The message in Christmas gift giving is not one of affection, but rather of humility.
I recall once in high school, our class decided to do “Secret Santa.” Throughout the following weeks, we all received little gifts, culminating in revelation day where a more substantial gift would be given and our secret santa’s identities would be revealed. A few days before revelation day that year, a boy whispered to me that he had, in fact, picked my name. Coming from a lower middle class family, he said he was afraid to insult me by giving me something that wasn’t up to my standards, and pleaded for me to let him know what I wanted so he could find a way to get it.
I thought he was just teasing me so I told him anything would be fine. On revelation day, feeling embarrassed, he handed me a box containing an inexpensive prepackaged set of three handkerchiefs. To this day, I still consider that as one of the most precious gifts I ever got. To have someone think that nothing he could get would be good enough for me said more about him than it did about me. He, to me, was the fourth king.
I knew then as I believe now, that it isn’t about receiving; the message of Christmas is about giving. And it isn’t what we give that determines a gift’s value, but it’s in how we give it.
The focus on giving and thinking of others, that’s what has always brought me happiness in past Christmases. But writing this on Christmas Eve, I hate to admit that I feel nothing. Not misery or loneliness or happiness or frustration or anxiety. Nothing. For me, it is the most terrifying state to be in.
When I should be humming Christmas carols, all that keeps playing in my head is A Chorus Line’s “Went to church, praying Santa Maria, ‘Help me feel it. Help me feel it, pretty please. And the voice from down at the bottom of my soul came up to the top of my head, a voice from down at the bottom of my soul here is what it said,”
… …. … Sorry I missed that! The voice from down at the bottom of my soul sounds an awful lot like Siri.
For the first time in my life, I no longer feel like a child. Endless fantasies of a Disneyesque future have all but vanished. Age has found my idealism waning. And as I increasingly accept and appreciate what is, I’m beginning to lose sight of what can be. Contentment, it appears, is a dangerous thing. It is the anti-Christmas.
For Christmas doesn’t celebrate how good we are now, rather it promotes the longing to become better than we are. The Christmas story doesn’t tell us that the world is as it should be. Instead, the birth of the child symbolizes a beginning, the beginning of hope¬–hope that we will all find kindness and love for each other, faith that despite all the destruction and suffering we bring upon ourselves we may someday find salvation. Christmas doesn’t dwell in the sufferings of the past or the mundaneness of the present. It lives on in our desire for a better future.
Thus the real danger to Christmas isn’t suffering or commercialism, it is apathy. It is indifference. These two evils aren’t just out to extinguish the Christmas spirit; they are out to destroy humanity. Our humanity. All humanity.
So this year I am especially concerned, just as I was when my doctor said my cholesterol and sugar level were elevated. Aging has changed my physical and spiritual metabolism. Both my body and spirit have become less adept at coping with the toxins in my environment, which have begun to accumulate in me. It is crossing the threshold of beginning to end, from the illusion of immortality to having a very real sense of mortality.
To ensure physical good health at any age, doctors suggest good diet and regular exercise. In terms of spiritual health, the prescription is the same. We have to be aware of the negativity we take in. We must strive to put ourselves in situations and relationships that nurture us and allow us to thrive. We have to regularly exercise kindness, patience, discipline, open mindedness, tolerance and empathy towards each other. We have to stop promoting and supporting hateful acts and hateful speech, regardless of how popular they may be. We have to realize that peace cannot be borne out of hatred and murder, that without the hope for peace, we have no future. There is no heaven or god or virgins that will reward your hatred.
No. I am not perfect the way I am. I have not done as much as I could, I’m not as good as I can be. I probably will never be. And what each Christmas reminds me most is that there is much work that needs to be done by me, that another year has passed and not enough joy and love and peace have been shared. It also reminds me that a new year is just around the corner, and that there is reason to hope. For next year brings much promise as long as we continue to think and feel, not for ourselves, but for others. To achieve that we all need constant exercise, the exercise of love and compassion.
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