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Thoughts on Christmas Gifts

December 24, 2014

Every year, in my years of reading the Sydney Morning Herald, I have read the editorials of the Christmas Eve Newspaper with the greatest of admiration. There is something about them that resonates with the heart and mind, a clarity and truth that raises a clarion call to the true Christmas spirit.

Last year there was a wonderful editorial about Christmas and the true meaning of Christmas. I regret that I never posted it. Today, I’m going to somewhat rectify that by posting this year’s article. While not as perfect as last year’s editorial, I think its worth posting in full all the same.

All emphasis in bold or underline is mine. The italics are the Herald’s.

Enjoy!

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If Santa Claus really did dispense gifts on request at Christmas, what would you have asked for this year? In all probability it would not be socks you don’t need, the book you won’t read, or the gift voucher you’re sure to lose when cleaning up on Boxing Day. More likely it would be a holiday abroad far away from the daily chores of housework or the demands of the office. Perhaps it would be a new set of golf clubs, a diamond necklace, a bigger flat-screen TV, or that bottle of wine you’ve always thirsted after but never considered quite within your means to buy. Or just maybe you’d ask for something less tangible and more modest such as a few days of uninterrupted rest and relaxation. Either way, most of us would request something for ourselves in the knowledge that an opportunity like this doesn’t arise every day. How many of us would request something of ourselves in the awareness that Christmas is actually concerned with how we go about our lives and the quality of the relationships we build with other people?

The actual gift of Christmas was neither gold, incense or myrrh but the promise of peace and good will. This was more prized by those to whom the message was first addressed than anything that could be wrapped in gift paper or tied with a ribbon. Life in those days was a desperate struggle for ordinary people and the circumstances in which it was lived were bleak and hostile. The promise of peace and good will held out the possibility of relief from constant strife and an end to unrelenting suffering. But what made the gift of Christmas totally radical and gave it appeal down through the ages was its non-exclusionary nature. It wasn’t to a small group of people to whom the promise was extended but to everyone – rich and poor, powerful and powerless, regardless of race, creed or gender – so that a new order of values, a completely different way of doing things, was made available to all.

Thankfully the world of Roman-occupied Palestine is not the kind of world in which most of us now live. Still, oppression, dispossession, and poverty remain the reality for millions of people around the globe. And in our own midst there are people who would ask of Santa nothing more this year than sufficient funds to make it through the summer, a safe place in which to raise their children, or perhaps a friend to ease the loneliness in their lives or help them deal with their despair. Even those of us who have plenty in a material sense can lack for something we can’t quite put a finger on – a sense of true meaning and purpose, a personal value that can never be got from things, a genuine sense of hope in the future and a worthy legacy to leave to those who come after us.

We all still need the peace and good will promised at Christmas because they are the fundamental conditions for a healthy and happy collective life. But to make good that promise requires something of everyone one of us in turn. It may be to accept a more direct responsibility in the making of public policy, it may be to play our role in the alleviation of hardships rather than consign the work to welfare agencies and therapists, it may be to put aside our initial outrage and unease at an event such as last week’s hostage drama in Sydney and recommit, in practical ways, to the tolerance at the core of our social values, it may be to try a little harder to understand and accept our differences, and to act toward others with the same care and concern we would like shown toward us in turn.

Asking something of ourselves rather than for ourselves this Christmas may seem trite, a platitude as quaint and other-worldly as Bing Crosby crooning about sleigh bells in wintry snow. But understanding and consideration are ultimately more important coins of mutual exchange than the stuff of budgets and bank accounts. This is a season to reflect on the deficits of our character, to imagine how we can each make the world a better place beginning in our own homes, workplaces and neighbourhoods. It is a time to cherish those we love – but also to see ourselves in the stranger who does the same.

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