Occasionally, this time of year, I turn on the radio for nonstop Christmas music. I heard a song that begins with the words, “Where are you, Christmas?” The song, sung by Faith Hill, is about a woman seeking a personification of Christmas joy and wonder which she calls, simply, Christmas. She questions where the magic of her childhood Christmas has gone.
Some Christians may balk at the sentiment. Christmas exists whether we feel it or not, like God, whose birth we celebrate.
And yet, there is more going on than meets the eye.
Awe and Wonder
Positive Psychology, pioneered by Martin Seligman, defines awe and wonder as “noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence and/or skilled performance in various domains of life.” This virtue is part of the array of virtues under the character strength, transcendence. Transcendence “forges connections to the larger universe and provides meaning.” In this academic description, we find the heart of the popular notion of Christmas magic.
Is there something truly different about this time of year, or has our focus just deepened?
The weather is cold, so we look inward. Traditions connect us to our roots, our heritage, and bring together occasionally disparate family members for yuletide cheer. I am connected through time when I think about the past and the future when I engage in these traditions. Dickens’ tale as portrayed by Mickey Mouse and Alastair Sim draw me to reflect on Christmases past, present and future. Even the seasonal stressors can be part of the traditions adding to the richness of the season.
In this, there is the individual element. Couldn’t I do this any time of year?
It would not be enough.
We hear phrases of “fellow man” and “peace and goodwill.” I am connected through space as well as time because these notions connect us to the world around us. There is power to the cultural celebrations, no matter how driven by consumerism they tend to be. The fact that not only I, but the people around me, are focused on something similar, even if we have different ideas about what it means to celebrate the holiday season.
With these grand notions in mind, it comes to no surprise that this is the time of year when we hear most about wonder and awe. Rarely can wonder and awe overtake us without any effort on our part. We must orient ourselves to time and space through mindfulness, taking the moment as it is and embracing it, nonjudgmentally. Could the Christmas wrapping be neater, the presents better selected, the Christmas ham less dry? Perhaps. But consider sitting back and seeing those around the table, or feeling the chill in the air, and taking a moment to think about those great questions and purpose in our lives. This is the path to accessing those sentiments we see on storefronts and in Shutterfly Christmas cards.
In that famous 1897 editorial, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” Francis Pharcellus Church writes, “All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.”
With this in mind, I come to think not only of myself, my companions, the past and the future, but the bigness of the world, the universe. My religious beliefs are accessed and I am drawn to deeper reflection about how they can still make sense in this world of chaos. Whatever your beliefs, there is a message here for you: a light that shines in the darkness, joy to the world, wishes for prosperity, hope for a better year, gratitude for the things we have.
We should still continue to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” We can also rejoice as others, who might otherwise never consider a God bigger than themselves, to engage in this transcendent opportunity.
This year, I invite you to pause and reflect. Let your imagination run with thoughts of Christmases past, Christmas present, and Christmases yet to come. Muse on what the holidays have meant to you as a child and as an adult.
Is it all you want it to be? Is something missing?
The beauty of the decorations, the marvel of children at Christmas lights, and the enthusiasm over some knitted fabric hung over a gas fireplace or stair banister invite you to see the world as a bigger, and possibly more majestic place than we before ever realized. Merry Christmas.