“Oh, would that Christmas lasted the whole year through, as it ought. Would that the spirit of Christmas could live within our hearts every day of the year.” —Charles Dickens
During Christmas time, almost all the shopping centers and malls in Delhi and the National Capital Region wear a dazzlingly prosperous look—most of the shops are decorated with colored lights, Christmas trees, cut-outs of Santa Claus, tinsel, shiny glass balls and what have you. This newly received makeover builds up an atmosphere of conviviality and enjoyment; as a result, footfall increases, shops are busy and business looks up—as it normally does during all major festivals.
The sense of well-being that prevails in our commercial world indicates that Christmas is no longer an all-Christian festival; it belongs to everyone. People flock to these malls, celebrating Christmas in their own special way: eating, drinking, splurging or indulging in a little window shopping. Music and soft murmur of people fill the merry air. It’s Christmas time again! But no sooner New Year festivities are over than most of us are back to our humdrum world with a faint remembrance of the good times spent with friends and relatives; business also slows down a bit. Christmas once again becomes just another date on the calendar.
Not only after the festive season, but also amid the general festivities few pause for a while to ponder over the true spirit of Christmas. There is a general perception that Christmas is a festival when the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated on the twenty-fifth of December; that many go to church on Christmas day; that Christmas is a time when people have a holiday from school or work; that shops do brisk business during the Christmas week; and that people buy presents, have cakes and drinks, decorate their houses, have a Christmas tree and spend time with their families at Christmas. But what truly is the spirit of Christmas—that is the question.
Charles Dickens warmly answers this question in one of his Christmas stories:
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time when it has come round–apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and God bless it!” —From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Christmas symbolizes love, kindness and charity—a genuine concern for others. When we show warmth and affection to others we become stronger and wiser; when we light a lamp for another it illuminates our path as well. The Christmas spirit lived in Mother Teresa’s heart every day of the year. There is an Arab proverb that sums up the spirit of Christmas: If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart. How true! Jesus is the epitome of love and compassion, for he gave his life so that we could have everlasting life. The life of Jesus teaches us that we must not base our lives on things transitory—things like name, fame and wealth, for they arrive and depart like a gust of wind. We must base our lives on the virtues of love, compassion and generosity.
Christmas also teaches us that we came into being not always to do, but sometimes simply to be. More often than not we end up spending our lives on acquiring things; we try to fill our lives with more and more things, not realizing that we are, in effect, giving little importance to ourselves. So we pack our lives with action—just like Herod. The story of the Nativity aptly underscores the disadvantage of leading an extremely busy life. This is why it is germane to present-day conditions.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard [these things,] he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, and thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found [him,] bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)
Herod did not see the star because his life was too full of action; like most of us, he had filled every moment of his life with action and did not have the time to sit and watch the stars. His heart was hard, for we do not see him presenting gifts to anyone, not even the wise men who gave him the information he wanted. In contrast, the wise men keenly observed the things around them; they also made time to make that long, slow journey across the desert. And their hearts were not hard, for they presented gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus. The wise men were simple, authentic people.
Today's action-obsessed society is populated by hollow men—people leading meaningless lives. According to the story of the Nativity, happiness lies in leading a truly authentic life. We seldom enjoy the lives we are living and lose ourselves in work, thinking that ‘action’ would eventually lead us to happiness; we wait for happiness to come along, but it never comes, just like Godot. So we must find out what specifically triggers the feeling of delight in our daily lives. It could be good food, reading classics, answering emails, or grasping a new idea. Consider your personal preferences, identify them and then embrace moments of joy that are uniquely your own. Immense joy lies in savoring authentic moments, for they bring a smile to our faces and contentment to our hearts. When did you last experiment with a new cake recipe or take time to gently arrange a bouquet of flowers to appreciate their fragrance and color? Sip a cup of tea while reading the morning newspaper or the novel you purchased at the used-books bazaar at Daryagunj or pause for a while to pet your lovely dog. What fun! What pleasure! Go for simple pleasures; they are waiting to be enjoyed.
Many complain that they are stuck in a rut, but few make efforts to get out of it—to let the real man or woman in them emerge. Lost in this sensual music, most of us forget to give creativity a chance. Elaborating on one of the ways to idea-condition the mind, Jack Forster advises us to get out of our rut and “learn how to see.” In his book How To Get Ideas, he writes:
Tomorrow morning on your way to work, or on your first coffee break, buy yourself a notebook. Buy a ledger—something with a sense of permanence to it. Then every day write in it something that you’ve seen. Every day. It doesn’t make any difference what you see; only that you see something and record it. (If you also want to write what you think about what you see, feel free. After all, that’s what Thomas Wolfe and hundreds of other writers did and do.) When your ledger is full, sit down and read it. Then start filling up another one. And another one. And another one. For the rest of your life.
Look for the ‘star’ in your life.