Near the end of the beloved Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol,” the cold heart of Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed and he exclaims, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
That was London in 1843 and Dickens was writing about making Christmas something joyful for those in need.
In 21st-century America, we are faced with the consumptive Christmas, crafted by marketers and advertisers for the sake of business profits. To be effective it must keep the focus of Christmas on us. Sadly, it works.
For nearly three months we are assaulted by the “Christmas is coming” frenzy that eats away at what should be a peaceful, reflective Advent, and imbues our Christmas with a compulsion to spend money we don’t have on things no one needs.
I saw it for the first time this season in mid-October. Two women in the local toy store were pushing around several baskets filled to overflowing. I thought they were store employees restocking the shelves.
But when I got to the check-out, they were at customer service with six shopping carts piled high with toys. My daughter-in-law engaged them in conversation and learned they were Christmas shopping — for two children age three and five.
“You’re buying all those gifts for just two little boys?” I asked.
The grandmother assured me that was the case, and there was more to come.
Our faith assures us it is love, not presents, that makes Christmas the season of more. But over the years, Christmas has become the season of consumption, buying more gifts, spending more money and running ourselves ragged attending to the superficial trappings of a “perfect” Christmas.
All of this adds to stress and frustration, and, often, to the sadness and depression many already feel at having to navigate a season of joy when they are impoverished, sick, grieving or alone.
Faced with an ever-expanding commercial Christmas, how can we ignite the true spirit of Christmas in our hearts, and “keep it all the year”?
First, we can take a lesson from Santa and keep a tight hold on the Christmas reigns. He knows how fast joyful gift-giving can deteriorate into chaos if he lets Rudolf and the rest run wild through the sky.
For us, keeping control of our Christmas doesn’t mean giving up our love of all things Christmas — twinkling lights, a beautifully decorated tree, gift-giving or even Santa — but it does mean scaling back and prioritizing.
Most importantly, it means refocusing on the Christ-child and the Holy Family. Their Christmas story should be our Christmas story — a story of saying yes to God, of humility, gratitude and love.
Our Christmas spirit is wrapped up in swaddling clothes. Like Mary, we need to keep the story of the Nativity in our hearts and reflect on it throughout the year.
Pope Francis has said, “In switching on the light of the Nativity scene, we wish for the light of Christ to be in us. A Christmas without light is not Christmas. Let there be light in the soul, in the heart; let there be forgiveness to others; let there be no hostilities, which are dark. Let there be the beautiful light of Jesus. This is my wish for all of you, when you turn on the light of the crib.”
We can keep that light burning throughout the year by celebrating Mass and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. We can also be the light of Christ by serving others. Whether we help one or many, service can lift us out of ourselves and our own pain. And as we move into the New Year, we can remember the Magi, making our resolutions as gifts to the Christ child.