2013 December – The meaning of Christmas??

Merry Christmas!   

Or is it?

I wonder about the forced jollity, the constant messages we get to buy & consume, the treacle music in the malls, and the tension on shopper’s faces. 

Is this it? Is the culmination of another year just one final burst of shopping?

Is this all Christmas is about? The season to be jolly?

Not for me. For me Christmas is about the mystery. I grew up deeply steeped in traditional German Mennonite folk traditions around Christmas. We celebrated St. Nick’s  Day with Mutti’s homemade  cookies in our shoes.

We sang German carols,  that celebrated both the cold,  the snow, the evergreen  trees and the lights, as well  as the mystery of the  incarnation. We lit another candle on the Advent Wreath   every Sunday, opened a little window in the Advent  Calendar every day, but the tree remained hidden until  Christmas Eve. Then, my Grandfather solemnly read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Bible, then lit all 5 candles (as I got older I was allowed to do that!), we sang some more carols, and only then got to open a present. It was a lovely family time, with an overall feeling of warmth and mystery.

When I got married, I had just quit a promising career to go  back to University and get an advanced degree in religious  studies. I felt called, and was pretty sure that the meaning of  Christmas had nothing to do with presents.

My wife and I started our own traditions, adopting the

small gift sharing at St. Nick’s,  celebrated Advent with a homemade  calendar, plus the candles and singing in anticipation of this great mystery, and then simply had a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve.
33 years later we still celebrate the same way, although along the way our understanding of faith, hope and the incarnation has changed.

I find myself meditating in front of the Nativity scene on the coffee table – the Buddha that normally sits there has temporarily moved to a different room – and Shiva watches from the tapestry on the wall.

I’m re-reading the gospels, and wondering who this Jesus character really was.  Contemplating the mystery,  and wondering who I am, and what it’s all about, suffused in the glow of the sun shining across the living room, and the warmth of love in my soul.

I am reflective, content and melancholy.  Which is NOT the same as being sad.

However,  apparently many people are sad at Christmas.  The forced jollity upsets them says social researcher Hugh Mackay.  They need to replace the sugar-sweet music with alternative, sad music.  They are fed up with the noise with which it seems we are trying to cover up the emptiness.

Nick Lowe sings about this in his new album, and particularly in A Dollar Short of Happy Now.

Christmas as we know it  – now the most commercialized Holiday of the year — is intimately tied to the burgeoning world of commerce.  According to Penne Restad, before 1823 it was a holiday recognized with “scattered fragments — perhaps with a church service, a feast or an outbreak of rowdiness.”

Less than 200 years later, it appears that Christmas is painful without money and gifts.

Does this have to be so?

Maybe, if you are expecting to be on the receiving end of the giving.

John Cheever wrote in The New Yorker in 1949 that “Christmas is a sad season for the poor”, yet adds a beautiful twist towards the end of this short story of how the blessing of the season is in giving to those who have less than we do, not in receiving.

I think we need to give, and avoid the trap of giving stuff. Give time. Give heartfelt, long hugs. Give words and deeds of kindness. Give yourself the gift of gratefulness for all you’ve received already this year.

My wife and I read A Thousand Gifts this year and so added a new item to our Advent and Christmas traditions, writing out small things we are grateful for and putting the cards on the fireplace, out there for other family members to contemplate and to see how some of their actions have brought joy and gratitude into our lives.
What will you do to bring joy into the lives of others this year? Not just now, but next year and the year after?

What will you do so that you can see that every day is a gift?

What will you do to stay mindful of the mystery?

Not sure?

Well, first you owe it to yourself and those around you to have a blessed Holiday.

Please do that, and then next week before you make any resolutions, contact me to schedule a consultation on how re-connecting to your meaning and purpose can improve not just your own life, but those of all you hold most dear.

Have a thoughtful Christmas.


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