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The Spirit of Christmas

Dec 23, 2023

Unlike many of my childhood friends, I clung to a belief in Santa Claus long past any appropriate developmental timeframe. I liked the idea of a jolly person wandering around the world handing out gifts, and I didn’t see the harm in continuing to entertain the possibility even after smelly Oliver made fun of me on the playground.

I didn’t allow myself to clue in until the Christmas morning I saw Daddy riding my new bike down the street toward our house. Clad in his flannel pajamas, he looked like some sort of suburban circus act gone awry, a middle-aged clown whose knees stuck out awkwardly on either side of the bike. Having stashed the Schwinn in the Ladners’ carport, he had to get it home somehow. It was the two-wheeler of my dreams: maroon with a black faux-leather seat.

Not every Christmas was so fruitful. I never did get that trampoline, and as for the stuffed snake, you can forget it. At the time, I couldn’t imagine anything more fabulous than adding a lime-green snake with its red-felt tongue to my collection of otherwise tame teddy bears. But my mother was dramatically afraid of anything that slithered, so even the idea of a garish synthetic version was, apparently, more than she could bear.

 “You won’t always get what you want in life,” my father said to me in my early teen years, when I begged my parents to let me transfer from one school to another. I was miserable, I said. Surely junior high would be tolerable if I could attend Saint Andrew’s instead of Jackson Prep.

 “You’re staying put.”

It did not take much more living to realize that indeed, I would not get everything, or everyone, I wanted in life. There was the handsome and brooding boy in college, that fabulous job in Charlottesville, a chance at motherhood. Along the way I learned, too, that Christmas is about more than “making a list and checking it twice.”

Now that I have a husband and stepdaughter, the holidays are about forging our traditions as a family. Now that I am no longer a child, Christmas is about more than December 25.

For theologian Howard Thurman (1900–81), Christmas represents the possibility that a single day can influence how we treat one another throughout the year.

 “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, to make music in the heart" (The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations, Friends United Press, p. 23).

 That might be a lot for a kid to comprehend, but it needn’t be for an adult who professes a religious faith. You don’t have to engage in certain rituals, or read specific texts, or claim to have a corner on salvation in order to adopt the generosity of which Thurman speaks.

 “The true meaning of Christmas is expressed in the sharing of one’s graces in a world in which it is so easy to become callous, insensitive, and hard. Once this spirit becomes part of a man’s life, every day is Christmas, and every night is freighted with anticipation of the dawning of fresh, and perhaps holy, adventure” (p. 19).

This Christmas I will fill stockings for my husband and our dog, make charitable donations in honor of my sisters, and spend time with friends. I will buy an angel ornament for my stepdaughter, whose mother has passed away. I will offer up praise and thanksgiving alongside other pilgrims on the church pew on Christmas Eve. All the while, I will try to remember that the spirit of Christmas is meant to last more than one day.

—Amy Lyles Wilson, Wisdom Tree Instructor,

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