“Christmas spirit” is largely an idealized notion, like snow on December 25 and perfect families gathering in harmony.
In reality, it seldom snows in most of the United States on Christmas day, the bustle of the holidays makes family fissures greater rather than smaller and the short days around the winter solstice make many people sad. Images of jostling hordes at malls, battles over parking spaces and holiday shopping that began on Thanksgiving this year are enough to drain anyone of good cheer.
And yet, we all know there’s something deeper in this season. Christmas and Hanukkah celebrate miracles: the virgin birth of Christ and the one-day supply of menorah oil that burned for eight days in the temple.
Hanukkah is the triumph of light over darkness; Christmas celebrates the light of God that came into the world. Both literally and figuratively, celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah brightens the winter darkness.
Both religious traditions connect believers to something larger than themselves. Even in our materialistic, secular celebration of these holidays, the emphasis is on giving gifts to others. Not only are presents piled under Christmas trees and given each night of Hanukkah, food pantries for the needy also fill up and religious and other charitable organizations arrange donation drives.
If only this spirit of looking beyond ourselves and giving would last all year. If only we could bottle the best manifestations of Christmas and Hanukkah, religious and secular, for use in April, August and October.
Since this is the season for wishes and giving, here are two from us for next year:
• Let’s try to keep community food pantries fully stocked throughout the year. Perhaps those who give to ALIVE! and other local hunger-relief organizations in December will mark their calendars and make quarterly donations throughout the year.
• Our other wish also involves giving, but it is attitudinal, not physical. Let’s give the other person the benefit of the doubt when we disagree.
When inevitable conflicts arise over issues like the waterfront and boat club in Alexandria — or about the budget or gay marriage nationally — let’s not impugn the motives of people who disagree with us. In every case where our views and interests clash with those of others, debates can take place in a civil way if we remember two things.
First, that there’s a chance, however remote, that our opponent’s view is right and ours is wrong. Second, that reasonable, well-intentioned people can arrive at very different solutions to the same problem.
We don’t expect an attitudinal sea change in 2014, but small steps can lead to big things. Perhaps nationally, the just-passed budget is a precursor to more bipartisan agreements. Maybe the compromise proposal floated last week by Jody Manor and Christine Bernstein will break the city and boat club stalemate. Maybe a little effort by each of us will lead to less strife for all.
Merry Christmas, belated happy Hanukkah and happy new year to our readers.