A Christmas message

I received an email from my uncle today. His thoughts about Christmas were inspiring, to say the least.  His eloquent words touch me deeply , and since I have his blessing, I would like to share the letter with you:

“This is my 78th Christmas and the wonder and the joy and the mystery build every year, rather than fade. I feel exactly the same today as I did when I was a child of 7 or 10.  Four days before Christmas, all the nerves in my body are standing on end, singing ancient Christmas carols.  There are phantom people all over the house putting things together, wrapping presents, decorating, baking, and all the anticipation of a great feast is in the air.  The smells, the ring of happy children’s voices, the joy that permeates the atmosphere.  It is truly the season of the little child in all of us.  To see the anticipation and the awe in the face of a child coming down the staircase on Christmas morning is a pleasure that we can all take part in and thoroughly embrace.  At Christmas time everybody is a Christian even if they don’t believe and are not really aware of what they are celebrating.

Every time somebody gives another person a present, that giving is an expression of love.  Every time a person receives a present, that, too, is an act of love.  For the giver, all their time and energy trying to figure out what the most appropriate gift would be, going to the store or stores to find it, spending the money to purchase it, all that synergy is exerted for one tiny moment: to see the look on the loved one’s face when she/he opens the gift.  And for the receiver, the great part is the anticipation that someone who loves us, thinks enough of us to expend all that effort, puts such a high value on our person, yearns to see us happy, is just about to “pop the question”.  Because when we give a present, what we are really saying is, “I love you; will you love me?”  And the usual procedure when one receives a present is to return the favor.  Both she who gives and he who receives are taking part in the same divine act, both asking and answering the question, both at the same time: “Yes, I love you; and I know you love me.”

Yes, the stores do commercialize Christmas too much.  But then, that’s their purpose: to overcommercialize Christmas in order to make money.  And we all buy into that conspiracy by purchasing presents for the people we love.  But as far as I’m concerned, there is never more love among mankind than at Christmas time.  If we could just keep the spirit all year-long, this world would be a lot more peaceful.

I’ve always been a little puzzled by some who say that if you say “Happy Holiday” rather than “Merry Christmas” you are leaving Christ out of Christmas.  I have always understood that the word “holiday” is derived from “holy day”.  If you believe in celebrating Christmas, if you believe that giving gifts is a healthy, holy, and human activity, if you believe that gifts are fulfilling and uplifting and that giving them is beyond merely human, then you must believe in some part of the miracle of Christmas.  Why are so many people raised up by their own joy at this time of year?

We are celebrating the birthday of Jesus the son of Joseph and Mary, the Christ, the Messiah, who came into this world as a newborn in order to experience the whole of the human experience.  He grew up  in a family just as we all did.  That family was his school.  He worked as a carpenter for fifteen years, from age fifteen to thirty.  Then he became a preacher to spread the truth.  He was a bit too honest in telling the powers-that-be that they were frauds.  Rome made him pay a terrible price.  But his words and his actions are still alive and well and flourishing today.  And the heart and soul of that message is: Love God first and prove that you love God by loving your neighbor.  He became man out of love; he taught us the truth out of love; he died out of love for us; he rose out of love for us.  He is pure love; his word is pure love; his truth is pure love.  And that is why on his birthday, we all are enchanted by and enhanced by that same pure love that he is.  God bless you all.  May you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday.”

John Meis
Naperville, Ill.

Every year, I contemplate the meaning of Christmas. I begin the season with a heart full of love and end up exhausted and wondering how I got sucked into all the melodrama and commercialization the holidays often bring. But opening this email this morning, my heart was once again filled with the true meaning of Christmas. Like John wrote, “If we could just keep the spirit all year long, this world would be a lot more peaceful.”

I truly believe it’s possible. And I know it begins with me.

 

 

 

Christmas is…

When I was in elementary school we had Christmas parties. There was always one or

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two kids in my class who were Jewish and of course, didn’t celebrate Christmas. Instead of learning about the Jewish religion (or any other faith), we simply side-stepped the issue and enjoyed our cookies and punch.

Back then, we had gift exchanges, went caroling down the halls, and played games for the entire afternoon before our two-week winter break.

Today, school children don’t have Christmas parties–they have holiday parties instead. School officials are very careful not to bring religion into any type of school activity and there is no mention of what Christmas really means or why it’s celebrated.

There’s no portrayal of Jesus being born in a manger in the school pageant, or songs of little drummer boys in the winter program.

But despite the lack of religious teachings in public schools, most kids know the story of Mary and Joseph, and how they traveled to Bethlehem and found that there was no room at the inn. They know the tale of the shepherds in the fields who were visited by the angels and told of a king that was born in a manger, and how the three wise men came from afar just to see the babe in swaddling clothes.

Most children know that Christmas is more than just Santa Claus and presents. They  may not understand where all the traditions come from, but I’m sure they’re aware that  people are naturally kinder, more generous, and more caring at Christmas-time.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all do that? To not question the magic of Christmas, but just enjoy it?

If we could figure out how to keep that Christmas spirit alive all year-long, we would all be a little happier, a little more at peace.


Beginning a new tradition

It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Every year I watch from a distance at people camping at local stores with hopes of getting the one TV that was advertised at a ridiculously low price.

Traditional Thanksgiving meal

This year was worse. Instead of waiting for the traditional Black Friday “unofficial” start to the holiday shopping season, many stores decided to open Thanksgiving night or very early Friday morning.

For years, I have been complaining (and I’m not alone on this one) that retailers are taking away from the true meaning of certain holidays, such Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, by pushing their merchandise any way they can. Holiday displays appear in store months before the holiday actually takes place. What whose fault is it really? Don’t consumers set the pace for their buying practices? I don’t think it’s fair to put all the blame on retailers. After all, they’re just trying to make a living.

My one and only experience with Black Friday happened more than 25 years ago when Cabbage Patch Dolls were the rage. I stood in line with a friend to get one of the last dolls available anywhere in Cedar Rapids. Was the 4-hour wait worth it?

I think, as a new mother, it was, but I never did it again. I’ve since realized that there is more to life than Cabbage Patch Dolls and low-priced TVs. My Black Friday morning will be spent with my grandchildren, something that can’t be bought in a store. There will be enough time to buy the gifts I need before Christmas, but for now, I just want to reflect on how thankful I really am.

In a side note, my 23-year-old daughter cooked her very first Thanksgiving dinner in her new home, which I was honored to attend. Among the dishes that were served included the traditional green bean casserole, turkey, and stuffing, but an Asian favorite was added; crab ragoons.

Traditional Thanksgiving meal, with crab ragoons!

Who says you have to follow every tradition? Maybe it’s time to start a few new ones.

Mind your manners

What happened to good manners?

As I go through my day, I see evidence that good manners just don’t seem to matter as much as they used to.  Yesterday I witnessed two women walking up the university stairs as I was coming out; one had a cell phone stuck to her ear, the other had her hands full; books in one hand and coffee in the other.

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I held the door open for them, as I was taught to do, and watched in disbelief as the woman talking on the phone pushed the other woman out of her way so she could get through the door first.  I was stunned. The woman with her arms full turned and thanked me, while the one was long gone, talking even louder as she entered the school.

This was a grown woman. Have we become so self-absorbed that we can’t take the time out to think about the feelings of others?

I was brought up with the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I try to be considerate. I tell people please and thank you, and I apologize when I have done something wrong. I try to help people when I can because that is what I was taught. And so that is the way I raised my own children, and I know they are teaching their children the same.

But I’m not perfect, nor do I expect that from others. But I do expect people to be considerate, because that’s just good manners. We used to be a society that taught that in schools. But even if good manners are no longer taught in schools, isn’t that really up to the parents?

Have we have become a society that has become too busy to take the time out to say thank you or to treat others with respect? But it’s not just about having good manners. It’s also about having a positive attitude. In my opinion, when people know they are appreciated, they feel good.

And that feel good-positive feeling is contagious. Most often, that person is nicer, which generates a positive attitude toward others and so on.

But if that same person is snubbed, they could feel resentment, which could have a negative affect on everyone they come into contact with.

We control how we treat others. We have the power to change the world….with good manners and a positive attitude.

It doesn’t take anymore energy to say thank you than it does to generate a negative attitude. And with the rush of the holiday season upon us, which would you rather practice?