How to redis­cover the sea­son’s spirit

Activated - - FRONT PAGE - By Mara Hodler Mara Hodler is a for­mer mis­sion­ary to the Far East and East Africa. She cur­rently lives in Texas with her hus­band and chil­dren, and runs a small fam­ily busi­ness. This ar­ti­cle was adapted from a pod­cast on Just 1 Thing, 1 a Chris­tian charac

Just about ev­ery­one is ex­cited to re­ceive a gift. There is some­thing won­der­ful about know­ing that some­one cared enough to think about what you would like, shopped for it or cre­ated it them­selves, and gave it to you.

There is also a special joy in giv­ing gifts. When you find a gift that you know the re­cip­i­ent will love, it’s fun to present it to them. The re­cip­i­ent’s de­light be­comes a gift to you and in­spires you to keep giv­ing. But stop and think for a mo­ment of all the gifts you’ve re­ceived in your life so far, and which ones have stood out.

You might have been be­side your­self with ex­cite­ment when you re­ceived the video game you were beg­ging for, but does it still bring you that same joy af­ter a cou­ple of weeks? The gor­geous top you just “had to have,” how of­ten do you wear it now?

There are a lot of Christ­mas tra­di­tions, and they vary by fam­i­lies, but it seems the one tra­di­tion most fam­i­lies share is gift ex­change. Stores know this, so they pre­pare months be­fore Christ­mas by flood­ing the shop­ping floors with po­ten­tial gifts and pic­tures of happy peo­ple re­ceiv­ing the store’s wares as gifts. They ag­gres­sively of­fer deals, sale days, shop­ping re­wards, in­cen­tives, and lay­away plans in an at­tempt to earn your hol­i­day bud­get. Ev­ery­one from the car deal­er­ship to the dis­count store of­fers ideas of what you can get your loved ones for Christ­mas.

I grew up in a mis­sion­ary fam­ily, where Christ­mas didn’t equal an abun­dance of fan­fare and gifts, ei­ther for me per­son­ally or for the av­er­age peo­ple I was around. The first Christ­mas that I had the op­por­tu­nity to “go all out” and do tons of shop­ping for my loved ones and fam­ily, I was so ex­cited! I spent days shop­ping at the mall, hours re­search­ing “best” pur­chases on­line, and more hours per­fectly wrap­ping gifts and ty­ing the pack­ages with beau­ti­ful bows.

As Christ­mas drew near, I heard my­self a few times say­ing, I can’t wait ’til this is all over. I had never felt anx­ious for Christ­mas to be over be­fore! Sure, we were tired by the end of it, but I had never felt any dread as­so­ci­ated with the sea­son.

Now here I was par­tic­i­pat­ing in a “tra­di­tional Christ­mas,” and in­stead of it be­ing a joy-filled time, it was be­com­ing stress­ful. I re­al­ized I was sur­rounded and con­sumed by Christ­mas but had the feel­ing that I was miss­ing Christ­mas al­to­gether. I pow­ered through any­way, right up to the most hec­tic Christ­mas Eve cel­e­bra­tion I had ever ex­pe­ri­enced. Piles of

gifts were ex­changed and trash bag upon trash bag of wrap­ping pa­per and pack­ag­ing was gath­ered. I sat there in the af­ter­math of “Christ­mas” feel­ing so ter­ri­bly un­der­whelmed. I felt like I had missed the grand fi­nale of a great movie and just skipped to the part where the cred­its roll. Where had Christ­mas gone?

All those thought­fully pur­chased gifts? As the weeks and months rolled by, I hap­pened upon var­i­ous gifts I had given, stashed in the back of a drawer or sit­ting on a shelf gath­er­ing dust. I also found some of the gifts I had re­ceived were use­less. We had col­lec­tively spent a lot of money on gifts, and a few weeks later, it seemed like no one was any bet­ter off for it.

Be­fore I sound like the Grinch, I want to make it clear that I am not against the giv­ing of gifts. I just hate to see Christ­mas eclipsed by a frenzy of shop­ping and stress­ing. On that dis­ap­point­ing Christ­mas, I learned that the real spirit of Christ­mas, the joy that makes Christ­mas special, is some­thing you have to seek out. It doesn’t just come be­cause it’s De­cem­ber and you’re buy­ing gifts, dec­o­rat­ing a tree, and lis­ten­ing to Christ­mas mu­sic.

Here are some of the ways I plan to spread the spirit of Christ­mas:

• Send­ing Christ­mas cards to loved ones near and far

• Shar­ing in­spir­ing Christ­mas sto­ries with my kids and friends

• Post­ing thought-pro­vok­ing, joy­ful, and mean­ing­ful Christ­mas mes­sages on my Face­book page

• Send­ing do­na­tions to mis­sion works that are mak­ing Christ­mas special for kids and fam­i­lies in need

• Prac­tic­ing ran­dom acts of kind­ness in my com­mu­nity

• Mak­ing Christ­mas treats for teach­ers and friends

• Avoid­ing the mall

• Keep­ing Christ­mas sim­ple: less fuss­ing and more mean­ing

• Spend­ing as much time as pos­si­ble with fam­ily and friends

• And the gift I am giv­ing Je­sus? Grat­i­tude! De­cem­ber is here. Join me in tak­ing time be­fore the Christ­mas frenzy is in high gear to think of how we will make this beau­ti­ful sea­son mean­ing­ful, and how we will “find Christ­mas” this year. 1.

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