for release Friday December 23, 2005
by Melodie Davis
The Christmas Spirit
When do you first remember feeling “the Christmas spirit”? I remember the first time I felt like I had “grown up,” at least a little, in terms of glimpsing the true meaning of Christmas.
Our parents never taught us to believe in Santa Claus, but still, as a young child, Christmas was all about Christmas morning and running down the stairs to see the magical presents under the tree, Christmas tree lights blazing in the still-dark morning, pulling Mom and Dad out of bed so we could finally open those long awaited presents.
Yes, presents. That’s what it is all about as a small kid and that’s okay. Every child deserves to grow up innocent and swept away by exciting new toys, dolls and beautiful clothing on Christmas.
I must have been about a third grader, maybe eight years old. It was at the school Christmas program when I first felt an illusive thing I’ve come to call “Christmas spirit.” We were singing a Christmas song—and it could be boldly Christmasy back then celebrating the birthday of Jesus, not a generic “holiday” or “winter” festival. And I remember just feeling supremely happy: happy that it was Christmas, that I was singing with my friends, that the music was pretty, and I somehow felt connected to it all, that my parents were in the audience, and that I was growing up. I know I felt like crying and wasn’t sure why. It was all so special. I had begun to see that Christmas was something more than the excitement of presents and gift wrap and playing with new toys.
I think most of us have had such moments. Sometimes you hear people talk about “I just don’t have the Christmas spirit this year” and I think what they mean is they haven’t experienced any of those special times when you feel “all glowey” inside, as a new friend, Vonnie Williamson, has said describing her feeling when she gets into her clown costume to entertain people.
For adults, Christmas gets bogged down in frantic shopping in aisles too clogged with people, hunting for “never just the right thing,” going to another store, getting stuck in traffic, and going home with a plastic gift card to give. Yes, a plastic gift card or money is practical and appreciated by many. But there is no tear-the-paper-off-can’t-wait-to-see-what’s-inside excitement in a gift card.
Plus, the more years you live, the more years there are when someone you know and love is suffering cancer and expected to die any day, so how can you be glowey? Or friends have lost their child to an accident, or a cousin is in desperate need of a liver transplant, or a brother-in-law has lost his job. A friend at work’s husband has left, real estate and property taxes are both due at the dumbest time of year (Christmas) and now the college wants its payment in December too. Where is the glowey in that?
Vonnie, and others my office interviewed this year for a documentary on mental illness (see www.shadowvoices.com ), have taught me about an even deeper chasm that our psyches can fall into, the chasm of depression. Not only do you not feel like celebrating Christmas, you feel like nothing is worth doing, no one loves you, you are a burden to everyone else, there is no way out. You worry that you will lose your job again because people don’t understand that depression is an illness like any other and that if you take a few weeks to recuperate and readjust to new medication, you will get better again. You know that if you tell your employer about your condition, they will consider you a drain on their work pool when there are others in line who need your job and maybe can come every day. You worry that your family can’t afford your illness or your medication. Or perhaps you are married to a person with bipolar or schizophrenia and they refuse (because of their condition) to get help; their condition makes them think they are okay and don’t need help.
Kind of hard to feel glowey. I think that these illnesses must be the worst illnesses to have and to fight.
Yet, God gave a gift to the world. Even in the worst of all situations, illnesses, accidents, and despair, God’s love still is available to us. That gift, his son the baby Jesus who grew up to share peace and love with all and finally die on a cross, makes any gift you have ever excitedly given or received a pale shadow of the lasting gift God gives. To give and receive God’s love makes every moment (at least down underneath) a “run-down-the-stairs-tear-into-the-gifts” moment. And that can give us a true lasting and glowey feeling inside, no matter what happens on the outside.
Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg VA 22802 or e-mail email@example.com (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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