Christmastime and the winter holidays invoke sensations that could be labeled anything from anxious and fearful, to joy and warmth, or even indifference. When you break it down, as we do in inquiry, it’s all perception–with an overlay of personal meaning. The taste of nut-buttery cookies; the scent of pine; the vision of colored lights that glow everywhere in these long, dark nights; the sounds of voices singing; and the touch of friends and family who come to share all of this. The perceptions themselves are neutral. We give them all the meaning they have for us. Hence, there are Scrooges and there are jolly old Saint Nicks, and everything in between.
For as long as I can remember, there has been the ongoing discussion of the “true meaning” of Christmas, how this not-really-agreed-upon meaning is overshadowed by commercialism and the glaring poverty of those who are unable to even participate in the excess of consumption. Tiny Tim and the Little Drummer Boy weigh in on the side of that spirit of Christmas that has nothing to do with money, though the Madison Avenue contribution is a very loud drumbeat, if not a deafening roar.
It is, officially and nominally, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Not everyone who celebrates goes to church, but many do pay homage, in their own private ways, to the underlying message of love, forgiveness, and peace on Earth.
It could be said that the last temptation of Christ was, metaphorically and literally, bearing witness to his humanness, in giving up his personal will to live and die as a man. As men and women we have no other choice but to celebrate this humanness–because we live as human beings. We can come to see both the divinity and the humanity in life, by forgiving and honoring the differences in expression that are the foundation and inexorable beauty of our fleeting personhood. The inclusion and acceptance of both, of all the contrasts is the miracle. Nothing less than the whole enchilada will do.
There’s going to be no exhortation here to live or celebrate one way or another, no plea to “love one another.” Buy big-ticket items, or ladle out food in soup kitchens. Neither one makes for a morally superior person. They’re both expressions of giving that seem to go along with the-not-really-agreed-upon meaning of Christmas. All else is opinion, that which divides and separates. Opinions are also part of this, though held lightly as opposed to fiercely.
If we can’t agree upon the true meaning of Christmas, perhaps we can agree to dispense with all judgment, and certainly any judgment about those who, either by choice or religious affiliation, do not celebrate it at all. If we refuse to give in to the temptation of believing that there is a right way to do Christmas–or anything else–then there can be no wrong, or not-quite-right way. This is how conflict is born, and world and personal peace are thereby sacrificed. We can refuse the temptation to judge in the same way that Christ refused temptation in the desert–all appeals that succumb to human frailty and neediness are responded to with trust, and the unwavering commitment to that which sustains us.
Or we simply surrender to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and the feel of the season. These freely-given and always-present perceptions are all we ever have. That is the celebration. There is no other to judge in this or any other regard. Whether the sights and sounds evoke joy, sorrow, or grumpiness, may you embrace (hug) it all, and may peace be with you in the midst of Christmastime, wintertime, and in all the seasons of (your) life. I bang this drum with solemn yet gay reverence for all the beats that have ever contributed to the symphony and cacophony that is this life. Bang that drum, however the spirit moves. There’s the meaning, whatever it means, however it manifests. Shall I play for you?