The Christ­mas spirit is age­less, time­less, giv­ing and gen­er­ous

The Phoenix - - OPINION - James Burns

The magic of Christ­mas comes in many shapes and forms.

I re­mem­ber the shiny gloss of a pur­ple-and-white J.C. Hig­gins bi­cy­cle at age 8. The next year was even bet­ter — a Lionel train whose sleek black en­gine puffed smoke and raced around the track pulling an or­ange box­car, a sil­ver tanker car, and a bright red ca­boose.

I would let out a cry, but se­cretly thrill, to see it fly off the tracks when I raced it around a curve at too high a speed.

We of­ten had a white Christ­mas where I grew up, the yard car­peted with thick snow, ici­cles cling­ing to win­dow frames, and my mother sow­ing the win­dow sill with seeds for the birds. She would ring a lit­tle bell and call out “Heeeere Birdie Boy” to sum­mon her fa­vorite bright red car­di­nal from the woods sur­round­ing our house. All mag­i­cal in a child’s mind.

I can even glimpse what Christ­mas was like for my mother when she was a lit­tle girl since her own mother wrote a letter on Christ­mas Day in 1907. She de­scribed a Christ­mas pro­gram of songs and recita­tions at the lo­cal school.

They asked two boys what they wanted to be when they grew up. One said “a splen­dif-fer­ous lawyer” while the other boy said he was go­ing to be “a preacher and preach as loud as I can.”

Each of the 85 chil­dren in the pro­gram re­ceived a gift bag of candy, nuts, and fruit.

Back at the fam­ily farm, the gifts in­cluded flan­nel shirts for the older boys, blocks and a pic­ture book for my mother, and a lad­der wagon for her twin brother. But work re­mained an in­te­gral part of farm life in 1907. The day be­fore Christ­mas, the boys “shucked 23 shocks of corn,” and my grand­mother ended her Christ­mas Day letter with “I must close and get to work. I want to wash win­dows this af­ter­noon.” Less mag­i­cal but re­al­is­tic.

Christ­mas can come with deep spir­i­tual mean­ing for Chris­tians while co­ex­ist­ing with a sec­u­lar Santa and a gift-ori­ented holiday as well as with Hanukkah and other cel­e­bra­tions with deep spir­i­tual mean­ing for those of other faiths. Hav­ing both a per­son­al­ized and a gen­er­al­ized sig­nif­i­cance is part of Christ­mas magic.

This mag­i­cal facet of a Christ­mas that we all can share can be seen by what it is not — call it Christ­mas Op­po­site.

Christ­mas Op­po­site ex­ists in a mean-spirit­ed­ness that would snuff out a Christ­mas can­dle.

It is seen in its rawest forms in home­less refugees, the bomb­ing of civil­ians, and the lit­eral slaugh­ter of in­no­cents, both here and abroad.

Christ­mas Op­po­site ex­ists in at­ti­tudes of tak­ing rather than giv­ing and in crude and un­civil dis­course that’s un­for­tu­nately flour­ish­ing nowa­days.

The mag­i­cal gen­eros­ity that per­vades a gen­uine Christ­mas spirit was well de­scribed by a New York Sun ed­i­to­rial of 1897 in re­ply to a lit­tle girl’s ques­tion about the ex­is­tence of Santa Claus.

“Yes, Vir­ginia, there is a Santa Claus. He ex­ists as cer­tainly as love and gen­eros­ity and de­vo­tion ex­ist…The most real things in the world are those that nei­ther chil­dren nor men can see…You can tear a baby’s rat­tle apart and see what makes the noise in­side, but there is a veil cov­er­ing the un­seen world which not the strongest man.. could tear apart.

Only faith, po­etry, love, ro­mance can push aside the cur­tain and view..the su­per­nal beauty and glory be­yond.”

You have the Christ­mas spirit if you see a neigh­bor in need and help; if you hear the bell ringer’s call and give; or if the sight of a child in tat­tered clothes or an aged per­son in the hospi­tal brings a tear to your eye.

And you em­body the Christ­mas spirit when you see peo­ple, even strangers, hun­gry and thirsty, scant­ily clothed and cold, sick, or in prison — and feed them, give them drink, clothe them, and visit them.

The Christ­mas spirit is age­less, time­less, lov­ing, giv­ing, and gen­er­ous. It can be no other.

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