Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Spirit

Ghost of Christmas Present (muppet-style): "Have you ever noticed that everything seems wonderful at Christmas?"

Scrooge (Michael Caine-style): "Uh...In all honesty, Spirit, no. Perhaps I, I've never understood a 'Merry Christmas.'"

At this point the Ghost of Christmas Present, with the help of the other Muppets, goes on to sing one of my favorite Christmas songs. In fact, here's the video straight from the movie (via youtube):

What I'm trying to say with this post isn't a (direct) call for a return to Christianity in the celebration of Christmas, but rather an exploration of something that is taught in Christianity, as well as most other churches, and that the Beatles summed up nicely when they made clear to the world that "all you need is love." And that's why I love this song and video from the Muppets. They make it very clear that Christmas, when experienced to its fullest degree, is all about love.

To quote some of the lines from the song in the video above:

It's true, wherever you find love it feels like Christmas.
In all the places you find love it feels like Christmas.
It is the season of the heart, a special time of caring, the ways of love made clear.
It's all the ways that we show love that feel like Christmas.
Yes, when you do your best for love it feels like Christmas.
It's true, wherever you find love it feels like Christmas

When you line up all of those lyrics one after another it seems like the Muppets are hitting us over the head pretty hard with their message, but their delivery of it doesn't seem quite so heavy-handed. Maybe the member of the band in the street getting punched in the face and the snowman losing its head lend enough slapstick comedy charm to overcome the schmaltz. Then again, maybe it is schmaltzy and that's okay. Anyway, schmaltzy or no, the message bears repeating: Christmas is about love.

I'm not talking about romantic love, though I'm not not talking about it either. I'm talking about taking time out of your own self-interested labours to take a look at the race of men scurrying by and seeing what you can do to help someone out. Anytime we sacrifice something that we want to do or have in order to do something for someone else or give something to someone else, we're expressing our love for that person. That's what Christmas is all about.

That, in a nutshell, is why the commercial aspect of Christmas is so disheartening. It's not that it detracts from Jesus -- though, from my perspective, anything that detracts from Jesus is a concern -- it's that it distracts people from doing what Jesus taught: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." The gospel of Christ is all about love. But Christianity doesn't own love and charity. Everyone, from all walks of life, can and should strive for charity towards those around us. Charity is the greatest of all. Charity is a word that we're familiar with at Christmas time, but how often do we really make an effort for true charity?

When people recount their happiest memories of Christmas it often has little to do with the presents they receive or the food and goodies they ate or any of that. Rather it has to do with their memories of the Christmases where they felt love the strongest. This is a big reason why Christmas cheer is so strongly tied to family togetherness. It's in the family that we often feel this love the strongest and with the greatest frequency. However, being in a close-knit family isn't the only path to feeling this love, and families don't have a monopoly on having merry Christmas. Just look at Scrooge. As Scrooge dedicated his life to true charity, he learned what Christmas was all about and became a happy man.

Scrooge had no close family that he could really call his own. No wife, no kids, no parents, no siblings. He did have a nephew who was keen to be close with Scrooge, but Scrooge wasn't interested and tried to cut any tie that might have existed there. That was the extent of it on the family end. As for friends, Scrooge had made every effort to ensure that he had none of those either. He was thoroughly unencumbered by the expectation of showing love for anyone. Scrooge had given himself every reason in the world to be self-interested and closed-up. And he was miserable because of it, though he didn't realize it. But through his associations with the various ghosts, he realized that he had to open himself up to loving and being loved by others if he was to truly understand what it meant to have a "Merry Christmas," and, more broadly, to be happy in general. And so he opened up. He went out and showed the world that he loved Bob Cratchit and his family, that he loved his nephew, that he loved the poor of the city and anyone else within his circle of influence. He went about the cause of true charity, and as Dickens recounted it, "He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world." He made true charity his goal and worked diligently towards it.

The same should be true of us. True charity is a gift that all can give, and that doesn't have to cost so much as a plug nickel. It just requires that we have the drive and the decency to "open [our] shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below [us] as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys." We ought to make it our quest in life.

As I've been writing this I've been thinking about something that I tried to ingrain in the minds of my freshmen writing students this past semester. That is the need to take your audience into account when you write. Being as I'm writing on a blog that is public to any and all who venture upon it, I suppose my audience is fairly broad. But as I look at the arguments for love and against egoistic, self-interest I realize my main audience is myself. I definitely need to be first in line to have true charity in my life.

There's a verse from the Muppets' song that I think is particularly germane to this discussion. In referring to the Christmas season they sing, "It is the season of the heart, a special time of caring, the ways of love made clear. It is the season of the spirit, the message, if we hear it, is make it last all year." Just as The Ghost of Christmas Present makes it clear that there is a special feeling about the Christmas season, living truly charitable lives is easier during Christmas time because it's a higher priority on people's minds. Let it be our goal to make true charity a goal we strive for year-round so that we can always enjoy the wonderful Christmas spirit.

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