CHRISTMAS is a season of natural, spontaneous joy - or of forced gaity. Often the relative degrees of genuine joy and its manic counterfeit are related to events and conditions in the world at large. Last Christmas was, for many of us, a special occasion. It followed the world-shaking events of autumn, when the winds of liberty swept through Eastern Europe, toppling totalitarian dictatorships like straw houses. The Soviet Union hadn't changed governments, but it had changed course, and hopes for brighter and freer days were high. The end of the cold war was declared. Latin America had become a democratic continent from Mexico to Chile. In the United States, the decade-long economic expansion was still going on in most areas, and shoppers were flush.
A year later, the climate has changed. In much of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, elation has given way to economic gloom and ethnic strife. The respite between the end of the cold war and the Persian Gulf crisis was cruelly short. World trade talks broke down in acrimony. Latin America's economic and debt problems appear ever more intractable. In the US, Washington looked buffoonish in budget squabbles, five senators stand in the dock as symbols of a political system gone haywire, and the only economics debate is over the definition of recession. Workers are being laid off. Merchants have already begun clearance sales.
One sees among our friends and neighbors this year those without Christmas merriment, and others whose celebration seems the product of habit and grim determination.
But the spirit of Christmas has never been about conditions, still less about mood. It is about hope. Its message - the incarnation of holiness - touches human hearts and lives, but it is not dependent on human affairs.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, described the movement of a sunbeam as a symbol for God's love. In this lovely sentence, substitute for ``sunlight'' the ``true spirit of Christmas,'' which ``glints from the church-dome, glances into the prison-cell, glides into the sick-chamber, brightens the flower, beautifies the landscape, blesses the earth.''
The world's woes notwithstanding, the spirit of Christmas - of Christliness - is abroad this Christmas eve, blessing each of us, our families, our communities. Angels still resoundingly declare Christ's coming.
We wish all our readers a very happy Christmas.