I asked my daughter (10) and son (8) what Christmas was all about, and they got it all wrong.
At first, they struggled, waffling on about Santa, trees and gifts, but then they introduced religions.
“My friend Abdullah is not Christian, so they don’t have a tree, but they still have Christmas presents” offered my son.
“Chanukah or Hannukah is the Jewish Christmas” suggested my daughter. “So different religions just have different names for Christmas.”
My wife decided to chip in at this point: “Christmas is Christian, so what is it about then?”
I knew what she was driving at – she wanted them to tell the story of the Nativity, but it wasn’t working; and as they struggled, she began to get frustrated, so I thought I’d wrap it up – after all, I’m the Dad. I get to be the smart-alick.
I said to her, “Christmas is confusing for children because there is a lot of white noise obscuring the signal – the Christmas Tree has nothing to do with the Nativity, Santa is another one. If Christians don’t understand how it all fits together, how can children?”
Nevertheless, she turned back to the children, “Jesus was born in a manger in a stable. There were three wise men who gave the baby gifts…”
Of course, the children were immediately reminded, and they picked it up and soon everyone was on the same page. Great. Except it wasn’t. Not for me anyway.
“That’s not what Christmas is all about at all!” I declared.
They stopped and looked at me.
“Christmas, the meaning of Christmas, the spirit of Christmas, is summed up in one book above all others.” I had their attention.
My wife raised an eyebrow, “Go on then – what book is this?”
“Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ – otherwise known as ‘Scrooge’!”
She looked at me in disbelief. My son and daughter gleefully announced that they knew this story.
“Exactly. The story is not religious, but there is a superstitious device in the ghosts. It starts with Marley’s ghost, can you name the other ones?”
“The ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.” They chimed in unison.
“Very good. So before all the ghosts what was Scrooge like?”
“Oh, he was horrible, nasty and a bully” suggested my boy
“Yes, he was a selfish miser and only thought about money all the time.” said my daughter.
“That’s right, he was all of that and worse. But, at the end of the story, what was Scrooge like then?” I asked.
“Oh he was much nicer, Dad. He was kind and happy!” said the lad.
“He gave presents and time off and was generous and people stopped being scared of him” said my girl.
“Exactly!” I chimed, “You’ve got it! – That’s the point of Christmas, that sums it up perfectly. It’s all about generosity, kindness, love, compassion, companionship, sharing, giving gifts, feasting on delicious food using the best china, it’s not meant to be business as usual, it’s SPECIAL.”
“So it’s not about celebrating the birth of baby Jesus?” my daughter asked.
“Not really. I mean, to some people, yes it celebrates that, but other people of other religions don’t think like that. In fact some Christians get so het up that people seem to be missing what-they-see-as the real meaning of Christmas, that THEY miss the spirit of Christmas embodied in the story of Scrooge’s change.”
I think Christmas is about change, we’re all going to die eventually, so we ought to make the best of life while we can, even if it is only for one special day that we wear a paper crown and feast like a royal. Some years it will be fun, other years, not as much. We all have to deal with our own ghost of Christmas past, we can affect the present one and the future ones, so that’s the real meaning of Christmas for me, irrespective of beliefs or lack of them.
A look at a Christmas past may bring regrets if you don’t accept Christmas; it’s very difficult to avoid it every year, so you may as well take control. The film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has a similar supernatural device (the angel, Clarence) to show a man what an impact he has had on his community when he himself thinks his past is meaningless and worthless, and considers suicide. Of course, everything is different (and much worse) without his contribution, but the bit that gets me, is when the spirit of Christmas brings the tears – when everyone rallies round in a wealth of generosity and love.
The Christmas message is not about religion, but about humanity and community. The inn keeper had no room for Mary and Joseph, but didn’t turn them away – they got a stable to spend the night. They weren’t expecting to have a baby in there, and they were not expecting a visit from oriental kings bearing gifts from afar. The Nativity is filled with humanity, kindness and generosity. The message is everywhere if you care to look – for example, John Lewis television commercials – the famous one of the ceasefire between the Brits and the Germans on Christmas Day, but also this year’s “Man on the Moon” – we ought to bear in mind those who are alone at Christmas, or forgotten about. So why not use Christmas to reach out, to bring cheer? Why not congratulate yourself for getting through another year?
So feast like a king, and welcome the Christmas Spirit into your heart you old Scrooge!
Am I right?