I am one of those old fashioned souls who still loves the Christmas season. I love the lights. I love the music (Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, mind you, not the rubbish that passes for Christmas music nowadays). I love the way my childhood memories come back to me every year, Christmas presents from the past.
I love the way my twelve year old stepson gets all excited whenever we go out on one of our Christmas traditions. It might be going to see Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker”, or maybe riding out to Attleboro to see the lights at LaSallette shrine, or it might be something as simple as taking the long way home so we can see all the Christmas lights that decorate the surrounding area, or watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” together. He has a ball, and so do I.
Now there are some people to whom Christmas is simply an annoyance, and I can understand how they feel. This time of year has become cheapened and commercialized, to be sure, but I suppose that’s the price we pay for living in a capitalist society. It is hectic, it is frustrating, it is expensive. It is a pain in the ass at times, I agree.
To those who have difficulty finding joy in this season, I would offer these words:
In an early scene in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, Scrooge’s nephew Fred Holywell chides his uncle for sneering at Christmas, saying, “I have always thought of Christmas…as a good time…when men open up their shuttered hearts to one another.” Later, in a more dramatic scene, Marley’s ghost indignantly answers Scrooge’s comment that he was always a “good man of business”, exclaiming, “Mankind was my business! The common welfare was my business! Mercy, charity, benevolence, forbearance, were all my business! The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the vast, comprehensive ocean of my business!”
There are so many ways we, as members of the same human race despite our differences, can “make mankind our business“. A friendly smile to that harried clerk at the cash register can brighten that person’s day. Perhaps, if you happen to be one the long suffering souls who works behind that cash register, a friendly word to a customer can make the difference between a good day and bad one, for you and for them. Or maybe it can take the form of an encouraging word to a co-worker who’s having a bad day. Or maybe holding back an angry word to a family member, even if you really want to strangle them. Perhaps it’s helping a senior citizen struggling with their holiday packages, or a lost child crying in the store looking for its mother
I am nominally a Catholic, but really just nominally. When it comes to contemplating the divine, one person’s religious belief is usually as valid as another’s. I do not know if Jesus of Nazareth was really the Son of God, as many believe. But I happen to know that at least some of what Jesus, divine or not, is reported to have said makes as much sense in our time as it did in his. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “Forgive your enemies”, and (my personal favorite) “Judge not lest ye be judged”. Whether or not you believe in the divinity of Jesus, these are good words to live by, and it would be a much better world if everyone did live by them, regardless of their stated religion (or lack thereof). When you get right down to it, these aren‘t necessarily religious beliefs at all. They are simply a blueprint for living in harmony with the rest of the human race.
To me the real meaning of Christmas is that human beings can, when they put their minds to it, be genuinely decent to one another. And if we can remember to do that at this time of the year, perhaps we can even try to “make mankind our business” throughout the year.
And so, like the irrepressible Fred Holywell, “I shall keep my good humour, and wish you a Merry Christmas.”