Thanksgiving weekend to mid-February is about how long I like to have my holiday decorations up. And small colored lights seem appropriate all year long, so they're always hanging in my bedroom should the spirit to light them move me. Every place I go I purchase an ornament as a memento. Getting the picture? I'm one of those people who likes to receive and send Christmas letters. I save up all my yearly correspondence for one big hurrah mailing, and try to write an amusing piece so I don't annoy the anti-letter people.
But there was one year when Christmas just didn't happen for me ... almost. My husband and I spent Christmas Eve at my family's on the bunk beds in the basement. Christmas morning we went upstairs, anticipating the traditional stockings and cinnamon rolls. Some younger members of our group were watching a depressing movie. Where was the music box CD? A video of "It's a Wonderful Life"? The candles with cranberry scent? Who would read Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory"? No one seemed particularly interested in the Christmas rituals I had come to expect. It seemed like we were all just going through the motions. Cook the turkey, eat the turkey, open the presents. Something was missing. Where was the wonder? Where was the joy?
A day or two later, on the five-hour drive home, we pulled into Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. Yes, we could pay to see their Christmas display. I balked, but my husband paid. It wasn't snowy but misty wet, and I wasn't inclined to be a good trouper. I was grumbling inside - you've seen one tree, you've seen them all. But an organ concert was scheduled right about then, and I jumped at the chance to get warm and dry, and to sit for awhile.
The hall, full of tourists like us, was treated to a brief discourse on this particular organ (many pipes), why it was there and how the pipes were laid out (the lower range made the floor vibrate, the upper range was ear-splitting). Finally, we were asked to join in singing traditional songs. The cheerful perkiness of the presenter grated on me, but I dutifully began to sing from the program we'd been given.
The swell of the organ and the voices all around us filled the hall. Small children with their parents were "laughing all the way" to "Jingle Bells." As if we'd rehearsed for months, our harmonies blended, and the room hushed as we softly sang, "Oh come let us adore him, oh come let us adore him." Tears welled up. This was my Christmas. No turkey, no presents. The opportunity to adore the occasion of the birth of a small child who was the "light of the world." Every song had a meaning and memory that broke open my cranky shell to reveal genuine rejoicing.
In a Christmas message for The Ladies' Home Journal in 1907, the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, "Christmas to me is the reminder of God's great gift, - His spiritual idea, man and the universe, - a gift which so transcends mortal, material, sensual giving that the merriment, mad ambition, rivalry, and ritual of our common Christmas seem a human mockery in mimicry of the real worship in commemoration of Christ's coming."
There are people who dread the holidays as an occasion to feel more sharply the loss of a loved one or a change from past celebrations. I can only say, like countless thousands before me, that breaking through to the meaning of the season moved me beyond a rigidity about how and when Christmas occurs.
Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas - If we think on these things there will be born in us a Savior and over us all will shine a star - sending its gleam of hope to the world.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society