Robert Hayden, DC, PhD, FICC
In Charles Dickens novel about Ebenezer Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past was the first of three spirits sent to haunt the miserable old man by reminding him of his lifetime of greed and lost (squandered) opportunity for happiness.
Personally, I have not seen apparitions, but it seems that my perception of Christmas has evolved over the years. Maybe the bright silver star atop my mental Christmas tree has tarnished.
At the risk of dating myself, when I was five or six years old, I recall staring at the aluminum tree in the living room in rapt attention as the color wheel revolved, illuminating it beautifully in succession: red, blue, green, and yellow. Sometimes I would snap out of my trance and reverse the wheel just for something different. I would contemplate life, Christmas, and what my future would be. There was a great sense of wonder about it all.
The joy of giving manifest itself at some point when I discovered that it was really fun to make someone else happy by choices I had made for them. I put a lot of thought into making gifts personal and specific. That takes more energy, but that was part of the gift. Shopping became an adventure. It was particularly adventurous with the small budget I had back then.
When I was young we always had to travel at Christmas. That required putting toys aside to defer the joy and wonder of those shiny new distractions until we got back from a trip to my parents’ ancestral homes.
There would be several days of visiting with grandmothers in whose opinions I could do no wrong. I always stood a little taller at my grandmothers’ homes. That was part of the joy of the Christmas season.
And, of course, we had three weeks out of school. I would watch really ridiculous horror movies (Wolfman, Frankenstein – the real ones) until the wee hours of the morning, sometimes with friends. It was great fun just not being in school for a while. I would reliably postpone all of the homework and projects until the very long Sunday night before we were to return that first week in January. Some things don’t change, by the way.
In adult life, the Christmas season meant squeezing all those social occasions, including office parties, church parties, and miscellaneous parties into the available time around work and family commitments. Available time seemed to shrink as I got older.
Grandparents do not live forever. Parents do not live forever, either. Siblings and friends scatter, commitments change, and contact is sometimes lost over the years. These losses influence on the way we anticipate and experience the Christmas season. It is never the same after these people are gone. Christmas may lose some of its luster.
My point of all of this is that I think Christmas is perceived by each of us through familial, traditional, and cultural lenses that give us the familiar images, tastes, scents, and colors we associate with the feelings we have about the season. These things inevitably change, so Christmas changes for many of us.
Then it occurs to me that if that is true, I have missed the point.
Christmas is not about me, my culture, my family, or anything that I perceive. Like Charlie Brown, I needed to hear it from Linus himself as I watched that 1965 cartoon this year for the first time in maybe 40 years.
“You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Indeed, Linus has done it again as he has for 51 Christmas seasons now.
Christmas is about a baby who changed everything. It is about the birth of the King, who was placed in a manger as myriads of angels observed and sang. It is the Great Physician making a house call. It is the fulfillment and culmination of prophecy and the pivotal moment of all human history.
It is probably a moment when Satan trembled.
And Christmas is about a Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, it doesn’t matter how I feel about it. And that makes me feel better.
And Merry Christmas to all!