The decorated tree, for some, goes up on Black Friday. For others, putting it in place on December 24th is the sacred ritual. Some traditions demand clear lights; others colored. Tinsel or beads or popcorn. We have our ways.
Or this might be the first Christmas since the death of a relative who insisted on things being a certain way. It’s left the family with questions about whether to continue the habits or establish different ones. A new way is needed.
And then there’s the family get-togethers. Perhaps you’ve traveled a great distance to rekindle associations with long-lost siblings, and upon arrival, you are told a brother or sister refused to join the gathering because you were going to be there. Or vice versa. The crowd had multiplied overnight because of your presence. The way gets sticky.
It’s a fact that heart troubles double or triple during Christmas week. No wonder. The planning, the work, the anticipation or both joy and pain plays upon the heart like a violin string tuned too tightly, and the heart takes a beating, literally.
Just as many factors play into our Christmas experience, so do the ways to approach them. A single woman without immediate family begins wearing elf boots seven days before Christmas and takes great joy in the reactions and comments from those around her. She says this is her second pair. She bought her first twenty-five years ago, and they have disintegrated over the years. Her way is one of joy.
Another acquaintance of meager means starts a savings account in February of each year, adding to it monthly, and uses the proceeds to buy food for homeless shelters the week of Christmas. Akin is the gentleman who dons a Santa suit and hands out five-dollar bills to anyone who speaks to him. Or the Santa brigade at a housing development in my hometown. Fifteen Santas, in costume, form a line into their area and distribute bags of goodies to any who comes by on foot or by car. This was their fifteenth year on the street. A way that leads to many grins. The way of generosity.
The secretiveness and mystery of the season lend themselves to attitudes and behaviors not evident at other times of the year. Something breaks loose in the mind and the heart and flows out into the world. Like the end of the Scrooge story when he makes his turn from stinginess toward generosity. The way becomes clear and focused for a few days or hours. The gift of Christmas, whether spiritual, mental, or social awaits to be discovered over and over each year. The air feels different. The comments to and with strangers are different. So is the magic. Merry Christmas.