Our relationship to the holidays

By Marc Felix and Kathrin Seitz | Jan 01, 2011

Marc’s perspective

Close your eyes. Can you hear Bing Crosby singing, “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas”?

Bing paints a poetic picture of paradise for us “where the treetops glisten." He captures our culture’s collective dream of Christmas as a time of pure peace and love. Christmas is truly being home, the ideal home and family we’ve always wanted. Of course, all of us are longing for such a place. Perhaps that’s why the song has been so popular for all these years. It’s as if Dec. 25 is the gateway to the Garden of Eden. What a set-up for major disappointment. Most day-to-day lives are dismal and mundane by comparison. For many, this contrast is depressing.

This contrast is one of the reasons that Christmas is so difficult for so many . Start with this dream of a White Christmas, and add to it a gallon of marketing and commercialism and a few quarts of family visits, and you have great recipe for major stress. The holidays are even tougher if you happen to be alone, or grieving the loss of a loved one, or recovering from alcoholism.

Any spark of “Peace on earth, good will toward men” has been all but covered up by the American bottom line of making a profit. If, as Kris Kringle observes in "Miracle on 34th Street," “Christmas and I are getting lost in the shuffle”, what is the solution?

My answer to that question begins with a confession. I’ve watched "A Christmas Carol" every Christmas for more than a decade. I own quite a few versions of the movie, but my favorite is the 1951 production with Alastair Sim. When I think of the holiday season I think of Scrooge and his incredible, inspiring transformation.

To me, the magic of Scrooge’s journey from miserly, closed-hearted selfishness to generous, open-hearted giving captures the essence of the holiday spirit.

The dictionary defines “Scrooge” as “a person who is miserly.” I don’t think that’s fair or right. I don’t think Ebeneezer Scrooge should be remembered for being a stingy miser, but rather for transforming into a loving, giving soul. He wasn’t just a person who harshly judged others. He was a person who repented and asked for forgiveness. He changed his ways. He opened his heart. He was truly born again (a phrase we need to rescue from fundamentalism). A Christmas Carol is a beautiful powerful story of what it looks like to wake up from egoism and live from our true essence. It’s about our willingness to learn to love. And I believe that is what Christmas is all about.

“May your days be merry and bright and may all your Christmases be white.”

 

 

Kathrin’s perspective

I love what Marc has to say. I like to keep in mind, during the month of December, that we are in a sacred moment, a time of expectation and hope. We are all waiting for the return of the light at the solstice; the Jewish people are celebrating the miracle of light at Hannukah; the Christians, counting the days of Advent, are awaiting the birth of Christ; Native Americans and African Americans celebrate their own holidays in December.

This is a time when we are meant to believe in what Madeleine Engle calls the Glorious Impossible, that is, with God (supply any word you choose) all things are possible. That our life has meaning beyond our everyday experience of it. It's what Tiny Tim's father says in "A Christmas Carol": "[Christmas] is a good time, a kind forgiving, charitable, pleasant time, the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely."

I am reminded of a Christmas in Newport, R.I., maybe 20 years ago, visiting my parents. As a single mother, I vowed that my son would know his family and we would be with my parents at Christmas every year. So there I was with my 84-year-old parents and my four-year-old son. My day was spent catering to the needs of these three. At times it was like having three children, or three little birds with their beaks open. Accustomed as I was to spending Christmas in New York, Santa Fe, L.A., Rome and London, I suffered culture shock every Newport Christmas in my parents’ small cottage. Out for a walk along the streets, I remember wondering: "is this going to be my life from now on? I used to have a glamorous and exciting life. Now I hang around with a four-year-old and two 84 year-olds."

I chuckled at the irony, laughing at my petty concerns, and decided I needed to infuse my soul with the spirit of Christmas, a Christmas different from the ones I had known. Later that day, Alex and I went shopping for groceries. Outside the store was a Salvation Army bell. As I watched the bell ringer, I thought, I need to do that. I want to do that. And I did. The next day I spent two hours in the approaching twilight ringing the bell and smiling at the passersby. At that moment, my life took on a grander meaning. My heart opened to the spirit of Christmas and I felt forgiving and charitable.

The holidays can transform us; indeed, they are meant to transform us. Let' s open our heart to that transformation. Look for miracles in the smallest corner. Listen to the ringing of the bell.

"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

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