Taking a moment to breathe this holiday season
Happy Christmas! Happy whatever you celebrate – or, happy moments, with no particular celebration!
I grew up celebrating Christmas. Given our living-room’s high ceiling, trimming the tree (with wonderful ornaments, some sent from Germany or Japan by my father’s sister, married to a career Army man) was a feat. Since my father, raised Jewish, was an atheist, our Christmases weren’t deeply religious. Some years, if there were no guests and she’d had only one or two cocktails, my mother went to Midnight Mass at the Episcopal Church.
I’m still a sucker for the great Christmas movies, from It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) to Love Actually (2003). Holiday Affair (1949), too. I could write a whole column about Christmas films. A column on It Happened on Fifth Avenue. Even Miracle on 34th Street (1947?) has me rooting for Santa Claus.
The Christmas spirit spawns a changed world, with folks joyous (or soon reminded to be), generous (some after ghostly prodding), and less intent on profits, power, and position. I suppose expecting all that from us more days of the year is as naive as believing in Santa Claus.
Leveling and compassion underlie The Christmas Story. A humble family seeking shelter, not realizing that their son would grow into a great benefactor of the human race, is the kind of underdog story we can’t resist. (It resonates more during great migrations.) Its hero, Jesus, repeatedly warns the rich and powerful that they’ll find it hard to enter heaven, and asks that we treat poor strangers as we would treat him. Amen!
I’m a curmudgeon. For a long time, I resented Christmas celebrations. I was distracted from its essence by the hypocrisy of its celebrants and the greed of corporations pushing Christmas to increase profits. Maybe the boy who’d trimmed those tall trees each Christmas resented the failure of later Christmases to measure up; and the man who recalled Christmas with love was too depressed by whatever love affair had failed most recently. “But, yo, man, it wasn’t Christmas’s fault!”
Whatever your personal trials,fears, and disappointments, take a quiet moment and let the true spirit of Christmas speak to you, from somewhere inside. It is not, of course,about showiness, pride, or being seen to be pious. It’s about letting yourself breathe, with love and gratitude. As Marilynne Robinson points out in the New York Review of Books, the more we learn of our universe, the more clearly we recognize that nowhere else we’ve found has the conditions that could support even microbial life. Let alone us!
Whether you credit Sky Woman, the water-beetle, Jehovah, Allah, Begochiddy, Brahma, or Mother Nature, this Earth is something special. To cling to the edge of it for an ant-sized moment is a rare privilege. Both Science and Christmas say, let’s soften our focus on the unfairness and bad fortune we’ve experienced, or resentment that a parent or boss prefers a sibling or co-worker, and keep uppermost in our minds and hearts our rare good fortune to be here at all.
Christ teaches, “Turn the other cheek!” Buddhism suggests we treat hatred, anger, or intolerance aimed at us as a chalice of poison the hater offers us. It’s unfortunate. WE can choose whether or not to drink it down, and let the poison spread inside you.
I say, I wish you the best.