As of this writing, there are exactly 18 more days until the conclusion of 2011. It was a year not uncommonly filled with its share of highs and lows and looking back it’s difficult to imagine where the last eleven months have escaped. But as John Lennon once said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” But before we welcome in a new calendar year, we have another time-honored holiday to celebrate – Christmas.
A subject of continuous debate, and the recurring theme of countless movies, books and television specials, is what is the true meaning of Christmas. While arguments surrounding its true meaning are subjective, it’s hard to decipher a logistical explanation when December 25th is continuously shrouded in dazzling decorations and over-the-top gift giving. It begs the question, “Where are you Christmas?”
To our sense of sight it might appear that Christmas arrived early this year – with department stores and shopping malls adorning their displays with holiday cheer and décor sometime back in August. Americans had little time to digest their Thanksgiving feasts before being bombarded with holiday commercials and advertisements – and a sense of anxiety typically brought about during the holiday season.
Christmas has long been regarded as being only for children – the gift giving and holiday spirit relegated only to those young enough to still have the ability to see beyond the realities that plague our adult lives. Children encompass an air of simplicity – something many of us long for today. Christmas just reinforces that longing to return to a time when life seemed a little less complicated. A time when everything seemed to make more sense and imagination made anything seem possible. Christmas then isn’t just for the young at heart – it’s for anyone who possesses the ability to never lose hope that things will turn out for the best.
But there’s more to this holiday season than gift giving, mistletoe and angels we have heard on high. There are millions of Americans who spend the holidays much differently than the images we see on television, in magazines and on Christmas cards.
Think of our soldiers overseas who’ll spend this time away from their families, void of any holiday décor and constantly leery of battle – even on what is supposed to be a day of peace. Think of those who will be decking the halls from the confines of a hospital bed – especially young children. Imagine trying to enjoy a day of celebration, joy and hope while fighting off an illness you didn’t ask for. And let’s not forget those spending the holidays in shelters or on the streets who have no idea where their next meal will come from – some not even knowing it’s Christmas time at all.
Is it possible then for Christmas to be found in these places? How could it be with the absence of decorations and presents, which have made this the #1 over commercialized holiday in America?
Many of you might remember one of O. Henry’s most famous stories, “The Gift of the Magi” which was published in 1906 and has remained popular every since. The “magi” refers to the wisemen who brought gifts of love to the newborn babe. One critic had this to say about the work, “The moral of the story is that physical possessions, however valuable they may be, are of little value in the grand scheme of things. The true unselfish love that the characters, Jim and Della, share is greater than their possessions.”
And so I think we’ve stumbled upon you Christmas. Not in the shopping malls, the decorations or the gifts, but somewhere closer to home. I turn to spiritual author Sonia Choquette, to explain. “Some people feel it is an exclusively Christian holiday, holding no special meaning for them. Others believe it is nothing more than a feeding frenzy for the free market and an excuse to get people to open their wallets at every turn. Others take the viewpoint that it is a holy day that is cheapened and diminished by all the garish festivities. The hidden meaning is that Christmas is the festival of the human heart.”
Decorations and presents, eggnog and Christmas carols do not make up the true meaning of this holiday season. Only those who are faced with adversity such as the men and women over seas, those battling illness in hospitals or the many who call a refrigerator box home will ever truly know what Christmas stands for. Once you remove all the distractions this holiday has to offer you’re left with an appreciation for life and an unselfish love for those that make it that much more enjoyable to live. One of the greatest gifts I’ve been given is there next to me when I wake every morning and when I go to sleep each night. I can’t imagine there being a gift that could ever outdo that.