Do you have mixed feelings about the Christmas season? Typically, people say that they had a stressful time, despite also being satisfied.
The very phrase ‘the spirit of Christmas’ evokes a sense of goodwill and cheer. Yet the idea can sound a bit hollow if we live alone and have no relatives. Christmas day is traditionally a family event.
Do you look forward to the start or end of Christmas?
Sentiment about Christmas
As soon as December comes around, we meet with those familiar sights and sounds of childhood: Santa Clause and his reindeer, coloured lights on the Christmas tree, carols being sung. These trigger feelings of nostalgia.
There may be delightful memories of people and places when we were much younger. The past seems rosy and is often seen as more positive than the present. But, we may realise that the sentiment we feel about the past is not the whole story. The illusion is broken if we find ourselves living out a fantasy that cannot be sustained by the life we are now leading.
Commercial side of Christmas
Many can enjoy the shopping spree, the eating of lots of great food, the special entertainment, and the atmosphere produced by attractive decorations.
However, the personal cost of Christmas can be high. Getting hold of the money perhaps we cannot really afford. Finding the time to do all what is planned. Frantically putting up the decorations so they look attractive. Choosing the right shaped and sized Christmas tree. Preparing the family Christmas day dinner without burning anything.
Socialising has become a big part of Christmas celebrations. There are parties in the office, community organizations, among friends and business associates. Social obligation means it is difficult to turn down invitations.
Family at Christmas
Family reunions can be a good time enjoying the company of those we know well and catching up on news. But contending with relatives and in-laws may involve some old resentment, jealousy or rivalry. We wonder about the way to organise family and social get togethers so as not to offend anyone. ‘How can I prevent family tensions and make peace if a quarrel erupts?’
Many worry about buying gifts that will actually be liked. While presents used to be simpler, today, people are choosier about what they give and receive, particularly among younger people. In the past, children were contented when given some cash, sweets, fruits, a new pair of shoes or new clothes. Now there is social pressure from their friends to have a mobile phone and high-tech toys and the latest video game.
Community at Christmas
There might be the thought in the back of one’s mind. “Oh heck – Christmas is just an inconvenience for me, falling in with what others expect.” At the same time, one might not want to be left out of something bigger then oneself.
In my local village Christmas is a shared festival. During the time leading up to the day itself, a big evergreen tree is illuminated together with hundreds of coloured lights hung in the main street. Most shops open their doors until late. Outside on a particular evening there are food, drink and gift stalls, choirs singing carols, plus other live music later in the evening.
Santa arrives on a sleigh. In addition, there are displays at the parish church together with extra worship services. Various charities and societies hold special events such as a floral demonstration, wreath making, crafts display, etc.
The idea seems to create a special atmosphere around a common tradition. People are encouraged to have a good time sharing a sense of local community.
Christmas as a religious event
Tim Kasser, of Knox College, Illinois, asked American adults of all ages about their satisfaction, stress, and emotional state during the Christmas season. He found a focus on spending and consumption is associated with less happiness. Instead he found that more happiness is associated with family and religious experiences.
These days Santa Claus looms larger than Jesus Christ. Yet people go into my local parish church, perhaps just once over the Christmas period, even if they are not regular attenders. It could be to midnight mass, or the service of readings and carols or perhaps to a special children’s occasion in the church.
The reason why people do this may be mixed. Perhaps they feel honour bound to do what used to be expected of them by their parents. Or to show respect to the religious message of goodwill. Perhaps they feel a sense of reverence for the Christ of their childhood. Or they might simply want to feel a sense of peace and hope.
Whatever the reason for attending church, Christians see Christmas as commemorating the birth of Christ. It represents the birth of the spirit of love within our individual lives.
In a study by Elizabeth W. Dunn, of the University of British Columbia, she randomly asked participants either to spend money on others or themselves. As a result, the former experienced greater happiness.
We say Christmas is a time for family. The chance to witness the true excitement and enchantment of the season through the eyes of children. Perhaps this is where our concern for others can begin.
Even if you don’t believe in Christ as the ‘Son of God’, nevertheless you may welcome the instruction he gave to ‘love the neighbour as yourself.’
Not blindly following the commercial and sentimental messages of the season. But rather remembering Christs’ moral point. Time for not prioritising oneself, what we want, what we expect. Rather, thinking what others need. How I can contribute to their happiness? To doing something good for them.
Is it not good to fall back on the basic meaning of Christmas? To reflect on what’s truly important in life.
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
Copyright 2018 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems