Keeping Christmas in Our Hearts All the Year

In Charles Dickens’ beloved tale, A Christmas Carol, the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge, scared straight on Christmas Eve by the three Ghosts of Christmas, makes the heartfelt pledge

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live
in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive
within me.  I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.

As I mentioned in my November blog, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas can be difficult for many people.  But each new season of holidays offers us the gift of new beginnings, a chance to count our blessings, turn our minds to gratitude, pursue the opportunity to practice selfless care and charity toward those in need, and embrace the Spirit of Christmas “all the year.” 

So many comments have been written and spoken about how materialism and the unrelenting drive for more things and just the “right” things at the “right” price overtake many people during this time of year especially.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds it annoying and even a bit sad to see Christmas decorations and related items up for sale everywhere in October!  An unhealthy focus on the acquisition of material things spills over into worsening angst, reducing people to feelings of overwhelming stress and resulting in angry outbursts at store clerks, family members, and complete strangers.  Flare ups of depression are a common malaise this time of year.  Couple all these with horrific heartbreaking tragedies that happen during the holidays and it is little wonder why some people cannot bear even the recognition of the holiday season.  How can a person overcome and triumph over all this?

Last year I blogged about the holidays of Advent/Christmas and Hanukkah teaching us about resilience and the importance of being determined to stand firm in our faith in God despite staggering, seemingly insurmountable assaults every which way we turn.  It takes no small amount of effort to quiet our minds so that we can begin to realize that painful past memories or present difficult situations have lessons within them to help us grow stronger and more empathetic to those in similar or worse crises than we’ve experienced.  “I will not shut out the lessons that they teach,” Scrooge vows determinedly.  One Hanukkah song, Ma’oz Tzur, offers meaning to our sufferings as well as encouragement to press on with thanksgiving and gratitude:

Ma’oz tzur yeshu’ati,
lecha na’eh leshabe’ach,
tikon beit tefilati,
vesham todah nezabe’ach.
Le’et tachin matbe’ach
mitzar hamenabe’ach.
Az egmor
beshir mizmor
chanukat hamizbe’ach

(Common English Translation)
Rock of Ages let our song
Praise thy saving power
Thou amidst the raging foes
Was our sheltering tower.
Furious, they assailed us,
But thine armour veiled us.
And thy word broke their sword 
When our own strength failed us. 

In the northern hemisphere, the winter time with its shorter daylight months can lead some people to experience various levels of depression, some quite severe, a condition known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  As part of good self-care, this condition can be eased by spending time in direct sunlight or receiving light therapy sessions.  In further pursuit of good self-care, the active, conscious choice to be resilient in honoring Christmas (or Hanukkah) in our hearts “all the year” is a healing, empowering act of charity toward ourselves to then help us give selflessly to others, and better prepare us for whatever lies before us in our futures.  Instead of being overtaken and conquered by insatiable materialism and other negative things, it is instead a beautiful, meaningful blessing that so many communities, schools, military programs, houses of worship, and businesses have gift trees and other similar events that provide opportunities for people to donate toys and other goods to children and adults in true need during this time of year.  Many houses of worship and private organizations offer nutritional and comforting meals, as well as a welcoming community, for the needy.  The lessons of both Advent/Christmas and Hanukkah are to recognize how much good God has given us, despite adversities, so as to encourage us to give of ourselves for the greater good of other individuals, to our community, and to our world.  Many mental health professionals counsel people experiencing depression to become involved in simple acts of charity as a healing activity for both themselves and for the recipient — and not just doing these healing acts of charity during holidays, but throughout the year!  This is our act of worship and service to God, who will make good come out of so much bad in our world, in this lifetime and most certainly in the life to come.  This is keeping Christmas in our hearts “all the year.”

I always find it ridiculously petty when I hear or read about some non-Christians and some professing to be Christians pejoratively dismiss the celebration of Christmas on December 25 as nothing more than a remnant of pagan Roman practices.  As a point of historical fact, the dating issue for Jesus’ birth is not a new one.  Clement of Alexander in the second century believed that Jesus was born in the spring of the year.  Early Eastern Christian dating has the Annunciation and Jesus’ conception occurring on Passover and His birth being January 6.  Other early Church Fathers estimated the birth of Jesus nine months from another dating of Passover which then placed His birth as December 25.  The Christian Hippolytus in the early third century wrote that Jesus was born on December 25.  Two pagan Roman festivals existed in December near the time of the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice:  Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) was celebrated in honor of the Roman sun god on December 25, and Saturnalia, celebrated from December 17 – 23, during which gifts were often exchanged.  Some conjecture that early Christians settled on December 25 to commemorate Jesus’ birth to replace either or both of these two pagan festivals.  Some people further conjecture that Jesus was born around Rosh Hashanah in the fall of the year.  Most modern scholars believe, based on the description in Scripture of shepherds being in the fields at night during the Nativity, that Jesus was born somewhere between spring and fall. 

It really doesn’t matter what time of year Jesus was born, but rather that He was born.  So it’s okay to celebrate Jesus’ birth on the now-centuries’ old tradition of December 25!  After all, we celebrate Independence Day on July 4, but the document wasn’t actually signed by most of the colonies’ delegates until August 2, 1776, yet I don’t hear too many people clamoring for Independence Day to be changed to August.  What is important is that we celebrate Jesus’ first Advent so that we can fully appreciate and celebrate His Passion (for which we do have a fairly precise date) and look forward to His second Advent.

One of the earliest depictions of Mary with the infant Jesus, dating only 200 years after His time on this earth, is found in a fresco painted on the wall of Rome’s Catacombs of Priscilla: 

Yet another early depiction of the Nativity, also dating to the 3rd century, was used to decorate a sarcophagus and shows the magi coming to worship Jesus as He is held by His Mother Mary:

There are so many Advent/Christmas hymns that point to the ancient truths of the Christian faith, and which can lift our hearts and inspire us to live out authentic Christian faith in these troubled times.  One such Christmas hymn, written by Christina Rosetti, describes not just a dismal physical earth but a “bleak” and “hard as iron” spiritual reality which was overcome by our Savior’s first Advent, and will be further and finally overcome by our Lord’s second Advent:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

So then, let’s give our hearts to the Lord Jesus, and keep Christmas “all the year.”

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© Copyright 2021 Paulette J. Buchanan