In recent years, there has been a noticeable trend in movies, songs, and skits about Christmas that emphasize the stressful aspect of the season. Although much of the trend is humorous in intent, the message seems to be that, for many, it’s easier to be happier at a time of year when there is less stress to buy presents, participate in holiday traditions, and be with one’s extended family. Because of the many demands of the holiday season, this time of year that should be peaceful can bring challenges that seem more intense than at other times.
Statistics show that about 69 percent of Americans feel stressed by some aspect of the Christmas season. One reason for the stress is that, for many, there is simply more of everything: more demands, more entertaining, more financial outlays, more togetherness – or for some, more loneliness – and it can easily end up feeling like it’s just too much.
Amid all this stress and rush, the question naturally arises: Where did Christmas go?
Doesn’t our response to the demands and opportunities of Christmas often depend on our view of what the holiday is really about? Isn’t it true that often stress around Christmas arises when we are entertaining a sense of the holiday that has become distracted from the reason Christmas exists: acknowledgment of the glory of the Christ-idea?
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote about the importance of gaining a right sense of celebrating the Christmas season. In an article titled “What Christmas Means to Me,” originally published in The Ladies’ Home Journal, she said, “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” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany” p. 262).
There have been times over the years that I’ve found the Christmas season challenging in various ways. Some of the time I would put too much emphasis on the holiday rush and end up feeling that Christmas had gone missing. Other times there would be aspects of the holiday that reminded me of family members who weren’t present.
I began to learn that if I tried to focus truly on the spiritual essence of the holiday through prayerful expectation of feeling the presence of the Christ, the spiritual idea of divine Love, I would feel less stress and more actual Christmas. I would have more opportunity for experiencing the spiritual gifts of peace and joy no matter what the circumstances.
Through a willingness to exercise our divine capacity of spiritual discernment, we can discover that God leads us through the holiday season, guiding us in what we choose to do and how we choose to do it. Willingness to be prayerfully receptive brings an enhanced understanding of the meaning of the presence of the Christ-idea here and now in addition to honoring the birth of Jesus centuries ago.
In that regard, I love the hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” by Phillips Brooks, in the “Christian Science Hymnal” (No. 222), which includes the lines:
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
Note that the “wondrous gift” is given silently – and spiritually.
We can then find that we participate in the Christmas season in a way that frees us from its negative aspects such as stress and rush. During this holiday time, we can gain a right sense of companionship so that being with relatives is joyful, not a mere obligation. Or if we find that we’re not with relatives, we can be freed from loneliness, perhaps by gaining a new or expansive sense of family, an appreciation of our independence, or an awareness of the needs of others.
In the article quoted above, Mrs. Eddy articulated her understanding of how to celebrate Christmas: “I celebrate Christmas with my soul, my spiritual sense, and so commemorate the entrance into human understanding of the Christ conceived of Spirit, of God and not of a woman – as the birth of Truth, the dawn of divine Love breaking upon the gloom of matter and evil with the glory of infinite being.” If we stick closely to that spiritual sense of the holiday, we will have found Christmas, and it will be bright.
Watch this column during December for further insights on how people have found more of the true meaning of Christmas.