People often express the wish that the spirit of Christmas could last all year long.
"May you keep the holiday spirit alight throughout the coming year!" they say.
Usually, people choose to say this only when they are appearing in televised advertisements for merchandise, such as diamond pendants and high-tech electronic gizmos, that move best when holiday magic causes them to fly off the shelves like Dasher, Donner and Blitzen.
Repeated treks to the malls under North Pole conditions, making a list and checking it twice, or upwards of a hundred times, actually, while at the same time worrying about money and time constraints, can make us all sympathize with the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge. It gets dark so early that people say "Oh, mercy, is it only four thirty? I thought it was nine." And everyone has heard of the holiday blues.
I think it's true, though, that most of us, Christian or not, have experienced Christmas spirit. It doesn't always come easily, but once it hits we want to prolong it. Some years, I haven't felt inspired until noon on Christmas day, when I leaned back into the wrapping paper debris and realized that what I hadn't done wasn't going to get done. A powerful sense of peace swept over me, as I determined to start earlier next year. Looking back, this sensation may have been brought on by fatigue. However you get there, the season has an uncanny way of sneaking up, so it's good to get into the spirit as soon as possible.
"I'm trying to get into the spirit," we say as we string up lights and mail cards. The spirit we speak of is a kind of openhearted generosity toward others. It's like a good strain of flu virus, pandemic and highly contagious. It can be brought on by a snowfall, a card from an old friend, a drive through town looking at our neighbors' holiday lights.
Many people practice random acts of kindness now. These acts - sometimes as simple as letting another driver pull into traffic or helping someone carry packages into the post office - multiply exponentially. So do the bouncing checks, with their concomitant fees, a danger of the season. Even if we overextend ourselves financially, emotionally and physically, though, the spirit remains a kind of high.
Sometimes making or buying presents for others starts off feeling like an obligation, but getting into it brings on the spirit. When it kicks in we feel good about ourselves. That makes us nicer, less likely to take offense, more likely to smile. Christmas is ideally a holiday for children, and the spirit can make us feel like children, even if only briefly and sporadically.
My friend Fran and I walked a few blocks to a little store in Keene Valley, where there was a sale of local goods, mistletoe, wreaths and Christmas trees. On the way there, Fran told me she was tired from working long hours at her job, and already weary of winter. Inside, however, spirit was rampant. We talked with people we hadn't seen for months. When we came out, snow was falling in big, soft clumps of flakes like goose down.
"Look up!" I said. We could see the snow clumps way up high in the gray sky, falling, falling, down onto our upturned faces. It was mesmerizing. We walked home, looking up, laughing hysterically, like children. It's a wonder we didn't fall and crack our noggins.
"People will think we're on drugs," I told Gwen, and quite possibly that was the word around town, but we only laughed more.
My friends Maude and Clarence and I were discussing Christmas spirit the other day. Clarence observed that most people don't have the time or the patience anymore for long-term projects like making a quilt or knitting a sweater. He worried that the skills may be lost if they are not carried on.
It's true that simple, thoughtful gifts are best, and we appreciate handmade gifts. But does this mean that new cars and fur coats and diamond pendants and electronic gizmos are antithetical to the Christmas spirit? I don't think so. Should someone be thinking of dropping any off here, I won't send them back.
"If you do something good for somebody, and they appreciate it, and you feel good that you did it." Maude said.
"That's the best," said Clarence.
Merry Christmas, and may you keep the holiday spirit alight throughout the coming year!