I've had a conversation with Ebenezer AND Scrooge lately about how the spirit of Christmas is missing. It made me think of a talk I gave to kick start the holiday season last year, and I felt it appropriate to share this simple reminder of what this time of year means to me.
"I love Christmas! It's not about my wish list for Santa- but about all the small things that make up Christmas for me- the glow of a big twinkling Christmas tree on a dark night, the sweet smell of cinnamon and pine, a steaming cup of hot cocoa with ooey gooey marshmallows, radio stations that play nonstop christmas carols, reminiscing about each ornaments story as I carefully place it on my tree, crisp snuggly new pajamas on Christmas eve, anticipating the excitement on the face of the recipient of that perfect gift I found this year, the general cheeriness that sometimes comes from unexpected places. It's the combination of all those wonderful things that make it feel like “it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”
Let me paint a picture of the traditional start of the holiday season. You stumble out of a cold car way before dawn, to begin the long trek across the vast parking lot, you quicken your step partially because of the hope of warmth inside, and partially to stay in pace with your fellow shoppers also heading towards the entrance, many still in their pajamas. Once you enter the store, the real race is on as the battles begin for carts and space. Yes, I'm talking about the tradition of black Friday. I remember a few years ago hearing stories of shoppers descending on a pallet of toys so much that the pallet collapsed and the shoppers grabbed and fought for toys all over the floor. And then the shoppers form large lines to check out with their carts overflowing so they can speed to the next store. And the innocent little sewers and quilters who shop at JoAnn's fabric similarly destroy the aisles and knock sweet little old ladies to the ground for $.99 flannel. Ahh, the onset holiday rush.
Now, please indulge me as I paint another picture of excitement and giving. Some of you may have seen a special Oprah did a few years ago about her Christmas in Africa. She brought a celebration of Christmas to orphans and needy children in Africa, who for many received their first Christmas gift ever. What struck me was that Oprah hand selected every gift and more importantly, each gift had the recipient's name. For at least one day, each of those children felt known and loved. In the crowd of thousands, they felt special. There was a visible light of gratitude and sincere appreciation in each of their sweet little faces. I watched full hearted as beautiful little children with tear stained cheeks hugged mother Oprah and thanked her genuinely.
While both of these pictures include excitement, gifts, and even a little chaos, one embodies the Christmas spirit and what this season really means. It's about giving, and more importantly the way in which we give.
While we may sometimes wish that we could give on the grand scale that Oprah gives, the reality is that many of us well, can't. But does that mean that we shouldn't try. I was watching a movie with my kids this week where a man was disappointed that he didn't change the world, the other character chastises him and says oh, but you did. How do we change the world? By one act of random kindness at a time. It is not in the scale of our giving but in the sincere and heartfelt effort of our giving that matters.
John H. Groberg said, “I wonder how many of us, in our Christmas giving and our giving all year long, think of not just exchanging material possessions, but of giving of ourselves, fully and freely. True giving comes from the heart, not the wallet.”
My husband gives me a hard time about gifts at Christmas, telling me “it's not about the gifts.” I retort that he is right, it's not about the gifts, it's about the giving of the gifts. For me, I don't give gifts out of guilt or competition or even obligation. For me, there is more in the quest for the gift, thinking about that person I love and trying to find something to show I love them and bring a smile to their face. It's about the giving of the gift, not the gift itself. Similar to the classic story, the Gift of the Magi, ultimately, the gifts were useless in and of themselves. It was the thoughtful, selfless sacrifices of each giver to show their love to each other that made the gifts meaningful. And in consequence, it is in the giving to others from our true self that we receive the most unto ourselves. We need to open our hearts and discover what it means to each of us individually to give of ourselves fully, and freely, and to truly give from our heart. I have no doubt that if I asked each of you what your most memorable and meaningful Christmas memory was , it would not include the Christmas where you finally received the official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle! It would include a humble story of sacrifice, and heartfelt generosity.
One of my favorite traditions as a child was doing the twelve days of Christmas for another family. My family would gather together for family home evening in the beginning of December, and we would carefully plan who we knew that could use some extra holiday cheer. We would then happily argue if we should give 5 golden ornaments, or 5 golden bells. But the tenth was always the same, with 10 words to live by, “Jesus said, as I have loved you, love one another.” Which my Dad, the awesome artist, painted beautifully for the family. But of course, our favorite part as kids was anxiously waiting our turn to sneak quietly up to the door, and prepare to make our speedy and stealthy escape after quickly ringing the bell, and we competed with each other to not get caught. Thus in my youth, my parents taught us the valuable lesson to give from the heart, and that it was better to give than to receive.
President Monson shared this thought with us, “Let us not spend Christmas and let us not observe Christmas, necessarily, but let us keep Christmas in our hearts and in our lives”. . . for when we keep the spirit of Christmas, we keep the spirit of Christ, because the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit.” It is the spirit of love, peace, and good will towards men.
President David O. McKay said: “True happiness comes only by making others happy—the practical application of the Savior’s doctrine of losing one’s life to gain it. In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service.”
This is the spirit each true Christian seeks. This is the spirit I pray each may find. This is the Christ spirit. No quest is so universal, no undertaking so richly rewarding, no effort so ennobling, no purpose so divine. The Christmas season seems to prompt anew that yearning, that seeking to emulate the Savior of the world.
We often think of the new year as a time for renewal and rebirth, but it is that beautiful holiday season before the new year that prompts a renewal of spirit. It is a time when many the world over seek at once to kindle and share feelings of love, peace, and harmony. While, unfortunately many may not understand exactly what that warm, glowing feeling is that they seek, and hold tight to this time of year. We are blessed with the knowledge not only of what that feeling is, but that we can hold onto it for longer than the month of December. We can seek for that light, that spirit this holiday season, and more importantly we can let that light shine, “Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” 3 Nephi 12:16
While shopping for Christmas decorations, I found a carved piece of wood that simply stated, “merry and bright.” I thought that while it was such a simple sentiment, it was a very profound and telling statement. It very simply encompasses part of that Christmas spirit. Why do we celebrate Christmas? We celebrate the birth and life of Christ. The key word there is celebrate. “and men are, that they might have joy.” 2 Nephi 2:25 “Joy to the world, the Lord is come; Let earth receive her king!” This is a joyous holiday where we celebrate with family and friends, where we give freely with our hearts to share the bounty that has been given to us. This is a time of renewal of spirit. It is a time where we not only remember his birth, but his life, his teachings and strive to be a little more like him. This is the season where we try to not only know of him, but to know him. We celebrate the life of our brother and Savior, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
On the eve of His birth, the voice of the Lord came unto Nephi, saying, “Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.”
What did the holy prophets of old declare? Isaiah, more than 700 years before the birth of Christ, prophesied, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
On the American continent, King Benjamin said, “For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent … shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay. … He shall suffer temptations, and pain. … And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and Earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.”
Then came that night of nights when the shepherds were abiding in the fields and the angel of the Lord appeared to them, announcing: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. … For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
The shepherds with haste went to the manger to pay honor to Christ the Lord. Later, wise men journeyed from the East to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. … When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”
Since that time, the spirit of giving gifts has been present in the mind of each Christian as he or she commemorates the Christmas season. Our Heavenly Father gave to us His Son, Jesus Christ. That precious Son gave to us His life, the Atonement, and victory over the grave.
What will you and I give for Christmas this year? Let us in our lives give to our Lord and Savior the gift of gratitude by living His teachings and following in His footsteps. It was said of Him that He “went about doing good.” As we do likewise, the Christmas spirit will be ours."So hopefully I reminded both Ebenezer and Scrooge that this is not the time of year for "Bah Humbug!" Simplify, and remember the big picture, lighten up, and have some fun! Have a very, Merry Christmas!