I sat down to write a post with a Christmas message. I got a few paragraphs in and it started feeling..familiar. I looked back through my archive and realized that the things I am thinking about are very similar to the things I was thinking about last year at this time. I’m not sure if that is good that I am consistent, or not, because I am in the same place mentally and emotionally. Either way, I changed part of this up and added some ideas.
There is a tangible spirit that surrounds Christmas. I feel it most on Christmas morning, when I am usually the first one up; turning up the thermostat, turning on the lights, putting on some soft Christmas music, and checking to see if Santa made a stop. We were talking about that feeling last night in the car and came up with words like, warm, magical, exciting, snuggly, joyful, comforting, peaceful, etc. All of those words do describe that specific feeling. For example, right now I am sitting in a quiet room, next to a sparkling Christmas tree basking in the stillness. It is a feeling unique to Christmas. If you would like to help define what that means, feel free. I would love to read your thoughts.
Where does that feeling come from? The obvious answer is that Christmas is about the Savior, and it is His influence and the Holy Ghost that brings these feelings into our hearts. I completely agree. As trite as it sounds, He IS the “reason for the season.” Focusing on Jesus Christ is the quickest way to envelope ourselves in those feelings of peace, joy, comfort, and snuggliness.
Yet as I dig deeper, I wonder if there is not more to it that that.
Jesus is (should be) the focus of our lives everyday. We pray in his name multiple times a day, we participate in His Atonement every time we repent. We covenant to “always remember Him,” each week as we partake of the sacrament. As I sit here and type, there is a beautiful painting of the Savior on the wall not 10 feet away, bringing Him to mind constantly. He should be on our minds constantly, as He should be the primary focus of our lives. Which brings me to this thought:
If our focus on the Savior is greatly enhanced during the Christmas season, then we are doing it wrong the other 11 months of the year.
Yes, I felt you bristle when you read that. I just offer it for your consideration. Personally, I believe it to be true. That said, the Christmas season does have a certain magic, (or can have a certain magic – it is a choice) and while the entire season is based on the birth of the Savior, other things contribute to the magic and joy. Here a a few of those things:
Traditions. One of the newer members of our family mentioned that our family sure has a lot of traditions. Now I don’t know if I would consider all of our quirks “traditions,” some are probably more “Holiday Habits.” For example, we have ham for Christmas dinner. Some people have turkey, some have roast beast, some have Mexican food. It doesn’t matter. What your family does is what your family does. We aren’t the ancient Israelites.
Elder L. Tom Perry said, “The Lord has not been so explicit in providing us religious customs along the order of feasts and festivals to remind us of the blessings we receive from Him today. However, the practice of having traditions to keep us close to the great heritage which is ours to enjoy should be something every family should try to keep alive.”(Link)
Our family traditions remind us of our heritage, of those who have left us, and provide a sense of continuity in an ever-changing world. Does it matter that the last thing we do at our family get together every years is to read Luke 2? Yes, yes it does.
Even Paul taught the saints in Thessalonica to “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught.” (link)
Research is showing that family unity, individual happiness and emotional health are are boosted by having family traditions. (link) Pick some good ones, and stick with them. There are so many things my EC and I do in our family that come directly from the traditions we experienced as kids. Those traditions make us feel closer to our departed family members, which adds to the depth of emotion that the holidays bring.
We find ourselves at an interesting stage in our lives where our kids are getting married and creating families of their own. Each of those new families need to decide which traditions they wish to keep, and which to toss overboard, and what new traditions they want to weave into their family fabric.
As that happens, we find ourselves making similar adjustments. Some we release begrudgingly, others we are happy to toss by the wayside. That’s something they don’t teach in Grampa School. A key reminder is that holiday traditions are rarely right or wrong, rather they are…different. Different can take some adjusting. The hope is that the differences will be superficial, and still be rooted in the quest for family unity and/or spirituality.
Those feelings of tradition stir the soul and add to the Spirit of Christmas, even if those traditions are not specifically focused on the Savior.
Focusing on Others. Christmas is a season of giving and service. We spend huge amounts of time and money trying to please, and provide for, other people. Nationally, charitable contributions are through the roof during December. We tend to serve more, give more, love more. Caring for the hungry and naked is never more in fashion that at Christmas time.
It has been fun watching the excitement with the #LighttheWorld movement and the Giving Machines. Who knew buying a goat could make someone feel so good?
Simple acts of service and small kindnesses make the season bright. I notice that – for the most part – people are polite, cheerful and quick to offer a “Merry Christmas,” to one another as we bustle around. Those simple things matter. Little things matter. In fact, I believe that an endless barrage of “little things” is much more meaningful, and impacting, than a huge occasional burst. (Which brings us back to the original idea about year-round focus on the Savior.)
When a treat is left on our doorstep, it doesn’t matter to me how clever or tasty it is. I am mostly just appreciative. It is nice to be thought of, and nicer that someone would take the time to let us know they were thinking of us. Again, it is the simple, selfless, things that enhance the Christmas Spirit.
Of course the blessings of focusing on others are well known. As we serve people, we grow to love them more, and we are following the Savior’s edict, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40)
This is reinforced by Elder Scott who said, “Greater peace will come as you couple your efforts to be obedient with serving those around you. So many individuals who have what they perceive to be meager talents humbly and generously use those talents to bless the lives of those around them. Selfishness is the root of great evil. The antidote for that evil is exemplified in the life of the Savior. He shows us how to focus our lives outward in unselfish service to others.” (link)
All Sides of Christmas. Some will disagree, but I love Santa. I also love Frosty, Buddy the Elf, Snoopy, Hermey the Dentist and the Winter Warlock. I am just fine with the secular aspects of Christmas, and am even ok with the crass consumerism that accompanies it. Why? Because I am already supposed to be focused on the Savior on a daily basis, this extra stuff just adds a layer of fun and frivolity to an already joyful season. (I will acknowledge that if my regular worship of the Savior was inadequate, I might feel that the crassness of the holiday could intrude on a singular opportunity to focus on Jesus, but it isn’t that way for me. My love for the Savior is not limited to an enhanced December.)
I am fine with Christmas songs that don’t talk about Jesus. I am fine with spending too much money. I am fine with the excuses and overabundance, because I know that it all has its foundation in one of the greatest moments in all of time and eternity: The Savior’s birth. Yes, Elf on a Shelf and Santa kneeling at the manger are creepy as heck, but if you dig deeply, you’ll see that even the Elf owes it’s existence to that miraculous birth over 2,000 years ago.
Returning to Simplicity and Goodness. Most years we watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Elf,” “Rudoph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” “A Christmas Carol,” and plenty of cheesy movies. They all have something in common: They were decent and good. Those silly cartoons with Rudolph, Hermey the Dentist and the Burgermeister Meisterburger all pull me back to the traditions of my youth. A purer, simpler time. A time that needs acknowledged and remembered. The memory of those times accentuate the Christmas spirit, even though the best ones have little to do with Christ.
I’ve listened to loads of Christmas music this month. (I am a post-Thanksgiving purist.) With the sole exception of the Paul McCartney Christmas abomination, I find Christmas music to be happy and uplifting – both the religious and secular. It is decent. It also taps into the traditions I mentioned before and pulls me back to a simpler time and place.
Christmas without music would be weird. It is the underpinning of the magical feeling that is everywhere: In our car, in our home, in the stores, even in the parking lots. Even if it is not about Jesus, it adds to the spirit of the season in a big way.
Time. My work gets really busy right up to Christmas, but then backs of until after New Years. That week is my favorite part of the Christmas season. I have time. Time to relax, spend time with family, think about the coming year and just decompress. This year will be even better, because the entire family will be here. No SKYPE calls from far-off lands. They will all be here, under our roof. That is a rarity nowadays.
This is precious time. Time that has tremendous value. Again, playing Boggle with family is not Jesus-centric, but it because of Jesus that the time makes itself available.
There is no question that Christ is the reason for the season, but there are many other ways in which a “well kept” Christmas can be enhanced. While so much of the season does not specifically point at the Savior, it is still of worth, and can add to the magic, the warmth, the comfort, the joy and the spirit of the season.
Embrace it all. Then carry it all year.
As a penitent Ebeneezer Scrooge said, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Merry Christmas to you all. May you bask in its glow and snuggliness.
Love, and chocolate kisses,