Christmas, like spring, comes on gradually.
Its first signs appear in store windows and newspaper ads as soon as Halloween is over. Sometime in November street decorations start to go up. The lights come on in shopping centers by Thanksgiving, and the wise shopper is buying presents by then. By the first of December people are out buying Christmas trees, and a sprinkling of carols begin to sound on the radio. Then like a tidal wave Christmas engulfs our senses and our souls, and we are inundated by temptations, expectations, excesses—by the many things to look at, listen to, and take part in that are Christmas. The wave crests with Christmas Day, but it rolls back slowly through the long school vacation and the succession of celebrations that are capped by New Year's and Twelfth Night.
Christmas celebrates the birth of the Christ, and those who complain about its lack of religious content have a right to do so, for to most people it is not a time of churchly observances. Hardly anyone goes to the trouble to separate what is religious from what is not. Carols, Christmas trees, candlelight, decorated houses, Santa Claus, the virgin birth—they are all mixed together in one delightful froth of wonder and exhilaration. It all seems somehow religious, no matter how unreligious it may be—“Jingle Bells" lifts our spirits as much as any hymn, and Rudolph is as beloved as, say, the donkey that bore Mary to that holy night.
But is this wrong? Would we not all be better for it if our religion were so intermeshed with our day-to-day living and our day-to-day living so laced with religion that we did not think of them as separate and hardly knew when we were about which?
I do not think we would be the holier for giving up Christmas trees and Santa Claus and gift giving or even Christmas cards.
Christmas is a flowering.
Ancient truths, too important, warm, and deep for words—truths about ourselves, about our world, about our lives—have found expression in these lovely forms that are our ways of celebrating Christmas. They were planted in our minds long, long ago, some beyond all known events or recorded memories, and they have grown through many centuries. They have grown because they satisfy in natural and joyous ways our happy fancies and our deep-down needs. We have a wish and a necessity to express our wonder and love and joy and delight in beauty and in one another—yes, and our faith that if the spinning globe we inhabit wobbles toward winter, it will wobble back again to spring.
Are we worse for it?
Take Santa. "Illusion!" you may say, and I suppose he is. But if we are going to give our children an illusion—and oh, how many we do give them!—could we give them a lovelier one? What would we have them grow up believing—that the world is a bare and grim affair, a thing of atomic and economic laws, or that there is also in the world a selfless and happy spirit?
And is this belief that there is such a spirit an illusion? I know there are many who would teach us that reality is dark and painful. But is it? I believe that most of us find there are more sunny than rainy days in our lives. Reality turns out to be, on the whole, pleasant, if not always as exciting as we think we might wish; it is our dank anxieties which make up most of our illusions, our worries rather than our hopes which hardly ever come true.
And take Christmas trees. If they come down to us from pagan times when natural objects were considered holy, are we the worse for that? In a world where we usually reduce everything wonderful and worshipful to natural terms, is it not a happy event when we elevate a natural object like a tree to a thing of wonder?
And as to the commercialism, if once a year we are induced to stretch our giving muscles beyond their daily lack of use, are we the worse for that?
Christmas even turns our thoughts around about the weather. At any other time, let clouds threaten or the merest powder of a snow sprinkle the streets, and we shiver and complain; but at Christmas we peer out, not in fear, but in anticipation of snow, and we ask one another eagerly, "Do you think it will be white?"
Christmas is a way we human beings have of saying that we need not submit to the tyranny of the seasons and the inevitability of circumstances.
Christmas is a season, but it is a season not so much accounted for by the inclination of the earth's axis toward the sun as by the inclination of the human spirit toward joy and light and warmth.
Christmas is affirmation that though the cold winds may chill our bodies and the short days darken our world, they will not chill our spirits nor darken our lives.
If our world grows winter gray, we will paint it Christmas bright.
We will create—if only for a little while and only out of tinsel and papier-mâché, fir boughs and candlelight and bits of colored glass—our own imagined world, if not the way the world is, then more the way we feel it ought to be.
If there were no Christmas, it would be as if a light went out along a dark street we have to walk along by night.
There will always be a Christmas.
Why? Because as long as the Earth shall wander around the Sun and as long as human beings shall inhabit it, there will be the love of light when the lights dim and the love of color when the colors fade and the urge to rekindle the fire when the warmth begins to slip away.
There will be wonderful tales and delight in telling them.
There will be the generous desire to share our good with others.
There will be the urge to set a candle—in our window and in our mind—and watch it cast its little light across the fleeing darkness.
There will be children—some young, some not so young—falling asleep at night with visions of waking in the morning to a world of dreams come true.
There will be singing of old familiar songs.
There will be worship at which we gather to bow down before the august and gentle Mystery we sense at the secret core of being.
So there will always be a Christmas, even if in some far off time all our present names and symbols fade from memory, for it celebrates the deepest and dearest impulses of the human spirit—all that is warm and bright and generous—the delight in wonder, the need to worship, and above all the power to rise above the tyranny of time and things.
This year let us celebrate it joyously, even with a little abandon—the right kind of abandon, that is, the abandonment of selfishness—by giving ourselves, by giving ourselves generously, to those we love and to those less fortunate than ourselves.
This article appeared in Unity Magazine®.