A funny time, Christmas. Like the winters of old, it seems to have been more significant in days gone by.
It’s as if there has been a second generation of diminution of meaning about the holiday. The first, of course, was when it moved from a celebration of Jesus’ birth to a “Santa and sleigh” holiday, though in that incarnation it remained and remains a metaphoric reflection of its original intent. But this second generation diminution into a marketing fest is far more unseemly. I think often on children who are made alive to the power of myth and belief through the person of Santa Claus and now must watch that myth unmasked in commercials where Santa is shown to be mom and dad or a weary department store employee. And we are powerless to stop it.
There are, of course, those who would say that this is worthy fruit for people who accepted that first diminution and found too much meaning in the “Christmas tree and Santa” permutation. But I am not among them. No child — no person — was ever harmed by a season dedicated to giving, and a holiday founded in faith, even if that holiday somehow mutated from a child in a manger to a man in a red suit. Frankly, I think that Jesus would have understood. At least the power of belief remained, and the spirit of Jesus could always be seen in his shadow.
But now even the mystery of Santa is going, appropriated by Target and Wal-mart and the shoestore down the street. He’s selling burritos, peddling Jack Daniels, and ho-ho-hoing from behind the curtain while mom tries on her lingerie. He’s a busy guy, and doesn’t have a lot of time to create magical faith in the hearts of the children.
This, I guess, is what saddens me — the holiday has now been stripped of the power of belief in any form. We struggle to keep it meaningful as a ritual of family gathering, and that is surely a worthy purpose, but we taken from it all the faith that it once engendered, whether in Jesus and the Virgin birth or in Santa and the flying reindeer.
Now, I don’t intend to equate the two. But both animate the heart with the vibrancy of faith, and when faith is lost, life loses its poetry and connection to dreams.
I hope all of you find a moment of faith in this holiday season, whether it be in Jesus, family, or simply the goodness of the human heart.
Be a Santa to a child, or an elderly person, or a lonely man on the street. Surprise them with an act of love. It’s a way to serve the spirit of Jesus, whose birth gave us this season that still reverberates so deeply in the human heart.