by Larry P. Johnson
Reprinted from “The San Antonio Express News,” Dec. 23, 2017.
When I was 10, I received a beautiful, fire-engine-red three-wheeler for Christmas. I was so excited. It was just what I had wanted. As I lovingly admired it, my mom said, “Merry Christmas, Larry.”
When Diana, my wife, and I had our children, we tried our best to fulfill their hopes and dreams at Christmas, giving them the things they had asked Santa to bring. As they opened their presents, we smilingly said, “Merry Christmas.”
At the grocery store, the neighborhood pharmacy, my favorite Mexican restaurant, people wish me a Merry Christmas, and I wish them one in return. What really are we saying? To our children we are saying “I love you.” To our neighbors, to the sales clerk, to the waitress, we are saying, “I wish you much happiness.”
It’s true that Christmas has become very commercialized, with ads popping up everywhere in mailboxes, billboards, TV, the radio and newspapers, trying to cajole us into buying just one more product or service. The Christmas atmosphere — with its fairyland of colorful lights, smell of pine needles, smiles of excited children, maybe even an unexpected snowfall — is one of joy and happiness. It’s hard to resist the urge to buy online or in the store. If you have a large family, as I do, you can spend many hours wandering the malls or the Internet looking for just the right gift for Uncle Bob or Grandma Grace.
One of my favorite Christmas stories is O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” If you recall, it tells about a young wife who sells her beautiful hair to buy a platinum watch chain for her husband’s gold pocket watch, while the husband secretly sells his gold pocket watch to get money for a set of combs for his wife’s gorgeous hair. They are left with gifts that neither can use, but they realize how far they are willing to go to show their love for each other, and how priceless their love really is.
Now, there is much discussion about whether it is politically correct to wish someone a “Merry Christmas.” But Christmas is, I believe, about more than a religious celebration, about more than giving presents. It’s an opportunity to express love to our children, our parents and grandparents, to all family members, to friends and even to strangers.
To paraphrase author Rev. Ed Townley, the experience of Christmas — or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, winter solstice, or any other name we choose for this special season — is not limited to which gifts are exchanged, which families gather or how trees are trimmed. It is a time when our spirituality expresses the richness of our human experiences and the creative purposes that underlie them.
The Christmas spirit embodies generosity, kindness, good will. As the Midwestern poet James Dillet Freeman wrote: “Christmas is a wonder … Christmas is believing. Christmas is hoping. Christmas is dreaming. It is a holiday holy to humanity’s dreams and hopes. So you see, it’s not about the words so much as it is about showing up in the world as our glorious spiritual selves, and sharing love, peace, faith, hope and joy with each other.”
Merry Christmas to you!