Who can doubt this is a special time of the year—Christmas and the New Year are soon making their appearance. I remember the excitement as a youngster thinking “Christmas is coming!” And now, many Christmases later, I feel the same excitement as Christmas approaches.
The arrival of Christmas is often associated with the anticipation of gifts, a break from our usual routine, colorful, cheerful decorations, shopping, and yuletide music.
An especially nice aspect of the season, however, is the way in which people actually change themselves. They seem happier and more cheerful. A spirit of good intent and good behavior becomes prevalent. People smile. They wish you well and gift unexpected surcees. People think about helping others—and then actually do.
All of this is enjoyable, for certain… even if it’s not completely understood. We recognize all this as “The Christmas Spirit.” Songs and Christmas cards refer to peace, happiness, and blessings. People spend money in hopes of bringing joy to the poor and to people they love.
But what is it that brings about this change for the better—even if it is mostly limited to four to six weeks? What’s at the root of the season’s spirit?
Christians see Christmas Spirit as a universal celebration. The celebration is a recognition that God loves us enough to have sent his Son to assume human flesh, and eventually die for our spiritual salvation—the biggest gift ever received by mankind. I guess people think if God can do that for us, we should make an effort to be nice to each other—and to give gifts—during the season of the Nativity of Christ.
Yet secular and non-Christian sectors of society also submit to the spell of the Christmas Spirit. For them, Christmas is represented by Santa Claus, a good man who leaves out no one when it is time to distribute gifts. Santa is known as a figurative representation of goodness, and encourages good behavior.
Spiritual or secular, the Christmas season spins its magic on almost all of us. And, at least for a period of time, many of us behave better and seem happier because of it.
After a certain number of Christmases, I began to notice this change—this need to improve myself in anticipation of Christmas Day. I began viewing Christmas as an opportunity to make myself refreshed, renewed, prepared, grateful, and purposeful. The Charlie Brown Christmas Show deals with this topic in a touching and humorous fashion. I still enjoy watching the show every year—probably because of the universality of the question trying to be answered.
But for me, here and now, this is personal and real. As each day brings us closer, I am increasingly aware of an intensifying need to settle the issue. What will “I” need to do this year to fulfill the Spirit of Christmas? Similar to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I, too, need to be transformed.
To succeed at this will not be easy. I enjoy routine; yet, succeeding probably means doing something unusual (if not at least extraordinary) from my routine. It probably means making some type of sacrifice. It probably means stretching to be a little more generous. It probably means improving my relationship with God. It probably means being kind to others knowing that it is through others that we come to know God. It probably means determining what I need to do to be a better person.
We all know that our choices and actions define who we are. But it’s important to realize that our choices and behaviors influence others, as well. To keep in step with the Spirit of Christmas, to be immersed in its spirit, I’ve concluded that I—we, even—need to improve ourselves and help others. By having good intentions and acting on those intentions we are perpetuating and extending the Spirit of Christmas. These are presents we don’t even have to wrap!
Gratefully, Christmas is followed up by New Year’s and its attendant annual resolutions. I figure if I get the formula right for this Christmas, I’ll just try to keep it going for the New Year.