As I sat with a group of friends, we related our experiences with Christmas as children and then later as adults. Most of us had fond memories of childhood Yule, family traditions, food, the magic of Christmas morning. That was the word used often about Christmas in the days gone by: magic.
For my family, there was always much tradition surrounding Christmas.
The fun parts were making cookies and the trip to a local sporting goods store that converted itself into a toy kingdom during Christmas. There was also church, either Christmas eve or Christmas day. My parents did not let us forget what we were really celebrating. I could endure that in exchange for brightly wrapped packages on Christmas morning.
Those among us that remember the magic of Christmas as kids often long to recreate that magic. Having our own kids helps; we can create it for them and then experience it through their wide eyes and happy smiles.
Certainly not everyone has good memories of Christmas in the days of our lives when the world was new and everything was ahead of us. Those of us who do not often experience Christmas envy and wonder why everyone else is so annoyingly cheery as the day approaches.
In one way or another, many, perhaps most of us experience some Christmas Melancholia (Christmacholia) as adults. Try as we will, we cannot recapture the magic we recall or create it if it was never ours.
As I approach my 66th Christmas, I have been thinking about the meaning of Christmas to me today? My family gathering is in early January due to multiple scheduling issues. We have long since stopped exchanging gifts among the adults. The young ones still get spoiled twice, once on Christmas day and then again in January.
I am a bit surprised to realize that gifts and food and Christmas trees are not the thing that has endured as the meaning of Christmas. The magic now is about the billions of bright lights displayed in homes, shopping areas, and public places. The magic is in the generosity that people display towards the less fortunate at Christmas. The magic is in the way people smile more at each other even amidst the frenzy of last minute shopping.
Despite fighting traffic and crowds, despite too many parties and too much food, Christmas brings out the best in us.
I am probably foolish to think that this has anything to do with a small baby born in a stable 2000 years ago. I suggested to a friend that all those lights we put up at Christmas reflect the oft used nickname for that child: the Light of the World. My friend, better informed than I, advised me that such lights are from the pagan traditions of early Europe.
My parents left this life long ago; there is no one to take me to church at Christmas. Yet I will likely be there either Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My faith is not steadfast; I have been in and out of it over the years. Yet, the Christmas stories that I heard as a child still resonate in my heart and give comfort.
I realize that not everyone is part of my religious tradition. There are many religions and points of view. I hope that as you experience your Christmas this year (or the holidays themselves if you do not celebrate Christmas), you will reflect on what the Spirit of Christmas means to you.