It’s in the Christmas cards and the music played this time of year. It’s in the ceremonial rituals of going to church, lighting candles, singing songs, and telling the stories of the birth of baby Jesus. It’s in putting up the holiday lights, and wrapping the presents. But, I still wonder, what is “the spirit” of Christmas?
Christmas embodies the true spirit of tradition. It’s the tradition of remembering, of giving and being grateful. Here’s where “the Spirit” lays. It’s helping others, and the careful cultivation of celebration. Usually with family and friends. Yes, lots of celebrating. It’s in the food, from the Starbucks holiday drinks to the mashed potatoes at Christmas dinner. And it’s in the giving, lots of giving this time of year. For a short time, generosity spreads good cheer, even those less fortunate. Gifts can about. Unusual stories pop up. It’s the rituals and routines we do every year. Put up the tree, pull out the lights and send the Christmas cards. Get the shopping done, don’t forget the dinner rolls and then wrap the presents. It’s in all the steps we take. It’s in the decorations on the tree and those quiet moments when one can take a moment to remember and appreciate. Even that holiday song playing on the radio or the store window that’s decorated can give us a moment of pause, to appreciate. And to smile.
The remembrance, especially for those of a Christian faith, of the birth of Jesus Christ is a big part of this annual tradition. The birth of Jesus is, in and of itself, a wonderful story. It offers a glimpse into the past, of what things could have really been like at the time of his birth. It makes the Son of God a real human being, someone who had human tangible experiences while living in a simple human body; and with the spirit of a great celestial being inside. It offers a perspective of what most likely happened to Mary and Joseph on their journeys and acknowledges the difficulties and struggles they overcame; all to give birth to a child. And not just any child. The idea of miracle is a part of Christian traditions and faith even today. Miracles can happen. Look at the birth of Jesus Christ. Look at his life. Listen to his message. The spirit of his birth is in songs, in sayings, and in tradition. It’s in the faith many people carry in their hearts. It’s a beautiful symbol of the Holy Spirit, the power of God and how, as mere mortals, we connect to something so much greater than ourselves. And we get to say “Thank you God” during this holiday season. We get to be grateful and acknowledge it publicly, in church, on the streets, passing holiday cheer on.
Going to mass on Christmas Eve has always been one of my favorite traditions. It was big deal for my grandmother. I remember going to visit her and being allowed to stay up really late so we could attend midnight mass at Saint Luke’s Parish. I remember feeling exhilarated and so excited, while exhausted at the same time. I remember how nice people were, and how quiet everyone one, as we all packed into the pews to listen to the priest. I couldn’t believe how many people could fit in that small church. People lined the walls and the back hallway. Some listened to the Mass from outside the front doors. We bowed our heads in thanks. We prayed, sang and lit candles. I love the tradition of the Passing of the Saints. It brings, like the story of Jesus, the living and dead closer together.
I remember the choir’s voices covering us like a blanket as they sang their hearts out from the upper balcony. And what I remember the most is the sense of peace, and a feeling of importance. There were so many people in the church and yet, what we were doing was important, although I wasn’t sure back then why. I could feel how calm and at peace every soul was in that church at that moment. And I could feel the energy around us. It was like a gold light filtering through every one of us. I knew I felt connected, to something so much greater than myself. It was humbling. And I remember standing next to one of my most favorite people in the whole world, my grandmother, watching as she smiled sweetly at me and continued with her prayers. I remember her rosy cheeks and her sweet smelling perfume. I remember holding hands with her and then letting go to fold our hands in prayer.
Little did I know what a subtle influence she would have over me in the years to come. Her smile, the Sunday dinner she made, the way she led her life, all left a profound impression on me. And, what I remember most about her was how sweet she was. She was truly one of the nicest and most gentle souls I have ever met. She had a big heart. Everyone loved Bessie! I remember how she adored me. I could do no wrong in her eyes, and if I did, she would love me no matter what. She was the first human being that showed me what unconditional love was. I know what that feels like. And it’s amazing.
I think, looking back now, she carried the Holy Spirit in her heart. She had this way about her that was so God centered. It showed in what she did, but also in how selfless she was. So much of her world was about giving. She introduced me to God. She connected me to God. She modeled the Holy Spirit. How lucky I was to have a grandmother like that. I feel blessed. There are no books or training, or any teachings that could ever explain or help me understand what I saw and felt in my heart when I was with her. She was pure goodness. I remember her getting on her knees before bed with her Rosary every night to pray. I remember her clear communication, faith and close relationship to Jesus. There was no alternative way to think, for her, Christ was King and the Son of God. That’s just how it was. She didn’t preach or proselytize, you noticed in subtle ways – her commitment to church, the bible and Cross sitting next to the Rosary beads by her bed. Her faith was so much of who she was. Goodness prevailed and the Holy Spirit traveled and moved through her heart. What a beautiful impression to leave a child. Thank you Nana.
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.
What is the Christmas Spirit, a set of tracts by Crossways.
The Spirit of Christmas, a sermon by Grace to You.
Christmas Spirit by Deanna Mascle on All Things Frugal.
Heres why Holiday Gift Giving Gives You All the Feels, an article from Huffington Post.