by Timothy Baril
Christmas isn’t always the stuff of dreams. Sometimes it falls rather short of our hopes.
Maybe we’re without loved ones, or far from them this year. Maybe we’ve lost friends, or moved to a new city and don’t know anyone yet, or for whatever reason, just feel really alone this Christmas. Can you imagine what it’s like to wake up Christmas morning and have nothing under the tree? No one to share Christmas dinner with? It’s a heartbreaking feeling.
Yet, not all Christmases were like this for us in the past. We know how good they can be, which is why, when a bad year comes around, it makes us appreciate just how good the holidays can be. A sad or lonely end to the year makes one reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. It’s an understanding that’s lost to so many of us, a holiday we sometimes take for granted.
People often become too burned out from their daily lives, or overwhelmed by the demands of daily life which have nothing to do with Christmas. It’s easy for them to set aside this time of year and forget about it, or get negative about the holiday, especially when it gets too commercial. Or, we often just glaze over it, going through the motions without much reflection.
A lot of people grow out of childhood and think that Christmas loses it’s magic, it’s appeal. It’s just not ‘fun’ anymore. They think, Christmas used to be all about the excitement of getting presents, but when you’re old enough to buy things for yourself, the magic fades. This is all tragic, because it all happens when we simply fail to understand why Christmas is really the best time of the year.
true meaning of the holiday season makes Christmas so special and enduring, universal and timeless; makes it something we should never forget. We need to pull ourselves back from the commercialization and shopping, set aside the bustle of daily life, and focus on something more important.
The meaning of Christmas is this: Christmas is about the Appreciation of Other People. Goodwill towards man; gestures of love and peace; presents and Christmas cards; charity donations; family gatherings; and Christmas parties – they’re all just a variety of different ways for us to say Thank You to each other. To say I Love You. The greater joy of the holiday comes from giving, not receiving.
It’s saying, I just want to take a little time to show you how much you mean to me, and how much I appreciate you. I want to thank you for the time you’ve given me by taking a little of my time and giving back to you.
You know how hearing all that from other people makes us feel amazing inside? That’s how we can make everyone else feel! Isn’t that wonderful? What an amazing opportunity that is.
How do we give back? It might be by inviting people to a holiday event, and by accepting invitations to another’s event. Hosting, or attending, a Christmas party is a way of saying, I value you, and I want to spend the most precious time of the year with you. I want to celebrate our relationship, our friendship, our bonds, by being together at this special time.
Now, we might see each other many times throughout the year, but at Christmas, the entire spirit of the season’s gatherings and exchanges are not just about having fun, or getting drunk or the food, or the games or any peripheral things. It’s foremost about people and relationships. It’s about giving of ourself.
often go shopping at Christmas like it’s some kind of chore. Or, recently, it’s become the fashion not to shop at all, not to give presents to very many friends or to donate to charities. People latch on to some excuse about not wanting to buy into the commercialism or they hate the crowds but that’s not really true, is it? It’s laziness. It’s a failure to properly value each other. It’s the very reason Christmas was created, and is needed – to battle very hopelessness and depression and negativity that routinely builds up inside us.
A present is not just a present. When we give someone a present, it’s more than just picking some random thing up at the store, and going through the motions of a traditional exchange of things, this time with wrapping paper over them. A present has meaning. Do not give it lightly! It’s a symbol of our respect, friendship, family bonds, love and affection. We could write on the face of it: “Here, I thought of you, and I wanted to make you happy. I hope this present does just that. I hope it gives you a smile, or makes your life just a little easier, or a little nicer. I appreciate you.”
The more someone means to us, perhaps the bigger or more expensive the gift, or, better, the more thoughtful. We can spend a fortune on the biggest, most expensive gift, but if doesn’t say anything about our relationship, or does nothing to make the recipient happy, it’s a waste.
Let’s take a moment to think about our choices this year. Think about each one of our friends and family. Are we planning to get each one a gift? If so – great! If not, why? Don’t we appreciate them being in our life? Will we show our gratitude another way? Will we invite them to spend time with us? Will we plan something together? Will we call them up for no more reason than to say thank you and Merry Christmas?
Or are we not planning to make a special effort for the people in our life this year? Why? Are they not worth it? Not good people? Then why are they in our life? Or, what does it say about us that we aren’t the type of person to give back to those who have given of themselves to us? What type of person are we that we don’t give first, but wait for others to give something to us before we respond? Let’s think about how we’ve been this year and ask ourselves, is this who we want to be? Are we being good family, a good spouse, lover, or friend?
So many gifts are a waste. When people say “It’s the thought that counts.” they’re right. We love being thought about. We love that someone cared enough about us to put thought into a gift, put their love and energy and time into it. They only do that when they value us, and we love being valued.
It’s very easy for a lot of people to give gifts without putting any thought into it at all, and these gifts are a waste. And, it’s becoming increasingly common to not give a gift at all. Either we’re giving gifts to the wrong people, or we must be pretty hollow individuals if there’s no one we really value in our lives. How heartless we are! How unappreciative of everything that people do for us. Why, we don’t even realize what they’re doing for us. We’re taking them for granted. Admit it, we’re all guilty of taking a few of the people in our lives for granted.
Putting thought into a gift means putting thought into a relationship. Selecting a present is a time to reflect on how good of a friend or family member we’ve been to others, how good of one they have been to us, and all the good ways we’ve been there for each other over the year. How many laughs have we shared, how many times have we used each other’s shoulders as support or to cry on? Were we there for each other’s birthday’s, for a wedding, the birth of a child? How many heartfelt compliments were exchanged, how many deep conversations, how many hugs and handshakes? All that reflection, on ourselves and on them and our relationships, goes into each present. That’s what makes a present so special. That’s why we should be overflowing with desire to give them, and why we should be moved and humbled to receive them.
It’s not always financially possible to buy presents for everyone we want to, or ought to. Though it’s become out of fashion, it’s perfectly acceptable to make a present as well. Bake some cookies, draw a picture, make a song. If we’ve got a talent, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but using it to say Merry Christmas as a gift to another is touching and charming. Put something of ourself into our gifts, for that’s what people really want.
It’s also perfectly nice to send a holiday card. Be careful it’s not another empty gesture, though. Just signing a name to a mass produced product is a waste, and shows no thought. A few honest, caring words, some specific details about our relationship in the past year, a desire to spend the future with that person, these show far deeper meaning. A card like that shows someone that they have value in our life.
is the only true currency. Money and things are nothing more than physical representations of our time. Our time is very limited, and the only thing that’s truly priceless. How we spend it says so much about how much we value and appreciate each other. Be it in the form of giving a present; writing a card; singing a song; hosting a party; attending a dinner; traveling a long distance to be together; giving up something else to be with someone; or any other sacrifice or choice, these are all, in their most basic expression, gifts of time. How much time is spent on someone is the only true expression of our appreciation for their value and worth. It says as much about us, as it does about whom we give it to. A person who gives nothing does not appreciate anything. A person who gives everything, must truly have the warmest of hearts. What kind of person are we?
When we raise our children, we know how important it is to praise them when they do good. The older we get, the more that practice seems to disappear from our lives. We’ve developed work cultures that tell us not to expect praise, and that a salary should be enough for us. We take family for granted. We often don’t work to give back to our friends because in such a busy, increasingly connected world, an exciting new friendship is just around the corner, so we don’t make effort to maintain the ones we have.
Yet, as adults, we’re just as busy making choices and learning and growing as when we were kids. We had parents and teachers to give us feedback then, and it gave us confidence and strength, affirmed us as good people, and this, in turn, breeds compassion and more growth. Maybe we forget, but we need all that praise and feedback just as much when we are adults. And just as importantly, it’s now our turn to start giving that feedback to others. Christmas is a time set aside for just that purpose.
We forget to show appreciation, or affirm the goodness of others, for much of the year. Birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, these are all small events when we should be giving back to each other. Christmas, however, is a wonderful time of year that lasts not a single day, but weeks. We shouldn’t complain that the Christmas season seems to start right on the heels of Halloween or Thanksgiving’s passing. We should be grateful for whatever excuse has extended the most compassionate time of the year for an even longer period. Just like the lyrics in so many songs, wishing for Christmas every day of the year.
Christmas is a magical time where we’ve all agreed that at this time we need to set aside everything else in life and really focus on what’s most important to us – each other. It’s a time for sitting down with family and saying “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me this past year!”.
For taking a friend by the hand and saying “Hey! You’re a great person. I believe in you. The way you do this and that is really special, and thank you for this, and I’m so sorry that happened to you but don’t lose hope, don’t lose faith in yourself, and let’s do our best to spend more time together in the future.”
It’s a time when we can walk up to each other and we don’t have to be shy or embarrassed or afraid to say “Here I am! I love you. I’m here for you. Lean on me. Ask me for help. I’m here – just here for you – whenever you need me.”
It’s a time of year when we take our partner’s hand and it’s not as much about romance and lust as other lover’s days are, it’s about all the times we were there to support each other and be a team and communicate and share life, to share time.
of the worst feelings we can have is to feel alone. And we can feel like that all the time. Even with a family, we might feel like they just don’t understand us, or argue too much with us. Even with a partner we can feel like a distance has grown between us and at the end of the day it’s just us against the world after all. That feeling can be a hundred times worse after a breakup. Even with friends it might feel like they never call, never invite us to anything, never make time for us, never come to our events, never buy us gifts, never seem to value us at all. We show up at the same parties, we hang out and watch movies together, but in the end, when push comes to shove and things get hard, or at the moments of our lives when we really need others, or moments are really special to us, it feels like no one is really there.
Life is busy. Really busy. And it’s not getting any less so. We work too much, we allow ourselves to take on too many obligations we don’t really want. We split ourselves up between too many casual friends and acquaintances, so we neglect to spend the right amount of time with the people who are closest to us, or should be. The people who give us the most, who help us grow the most, who make us happiest, we ignore in favour of some other distraction. We spread ourselves out with TV and cell phones and the internet, thinking we’re being social, but neglecting face time with each other. We get so excited about meeting someone new that we forget to appreciate those who we’ve shared so many good memories with already. Meeting new people can be a good learning process, but maintaining old relationships is a life affirming process.
Relationships are so important. They take away that loneliness we’re so prone to. They help give us confidence and self respect. Having friends and family let’s us know that there are others similar to us, or who approve of us, and by extension, that means we’re good people. It’s social confirmation that we’re making the right choices in life, at least more often than we’re making mistakes. It’s confirmation that we’ve got a good heart, that we’re valuable to other people. It’s confirmation that our lives have real meaning, beyond our own selfish desires and personal achievements. It shows that we’re creating value in the lives of other people.
The sheer number of people we know, or who casually call us friend, isn’t important. We can have a thousand people around us all the time, be a real social butterfly, but in the end, these relationships aren’t going to give our life meaning, and aren’t going to really affirm us as a person. It’s having long lasting, deep relationships, relationships we work to maintain, people we put effort and time into. These relationships are what really reflect on us as a person. By going out and showing our appreciation for others, it’s a way of saying, “Hey, the world is a better place because of you, and how you’re living your life, and I hope you keeping on being a part of my world for a long time to come.” That very expression will brighten the lives of everyone we touch. That is what makes the world a truly better place.
Having a tight circle of friends and family that really understand us, that we choose spend a lot of time with, and who choose us back, this really tells us what kind of person we are. And Christmas is the time of year when we set aside everything else that might have managed to get in the way the rest of the year, when we go out of our way to be together with those people, and show them all the love and appreciation that’s bursting in our hearts to give, and all that they deserve to receive.
Don’t we want certain people to know just how lovable they are, how cute and funny, how cherished, how supportive, how cheerful, how amazing they’ve been this year? Don’t we want to reach down to those mired in sadness, loneliness or depression and raise them up by reminding them of how good they really are, and that we want them in our lives? Or how good they could be if they didn’t give up on themselves? Don’t we want to put smiles on face, joy in hearts?
Appreciation breeds humility and compassion and love in ourselves and others. Don’t we want to be a source of all that? Don’t we want to help encourage that in the people who matter most to us? Don’t we want to feel just a little bit like Santa for a while?
What more meaningful way could we possibly spend our time than to do all that for someone we like?
year, and every year after, when the holiday season is once again upon us, let’s remind ourselves of the true spirit of Christmas, and think about who means the most to us, and why. Then let’s go out and tell them, or far better yet – show them. Appreciation is so much more meaningful when shown with actions, not just words. Let’s celebrate with them, exchange presents, write cards, raise a glass, share a meal. Let’s take some of our time and give it to them. When we have given all of ourselves and more, then we’ll have become, to them, the kind of person we want in our own lives.
That is the magic of Christmas. That is what makes the world a better place.
(This article treats Christmas as a non-religious, universal, inclusive event.)