It wasn’t that long ago that Christmas was predominately recognized as a religious holiday celebrating the birth of Christ in a land and time far removed from our own everyday realities.
The secularization of the season has transformed it, at least in the public eye, into a period of time when people set aside their own self-interests and wants for a time as they concentrate on the needs and wants of those near to their hearts, and those perhaps not so near. What explains this generosity of spirit without its traditionally religious context?
Strangers come together and volunteer their time and/or donate their money to causes outside their daily concern. Donations to the foodbank and many other charities increase, as do countless volunteer hours spent in service to others with nothing in return other than gratitude, if that.
A lot of this volunteer generosity comes from those who are already heavily involved in community or social undertakings throughout the rest of the year. As a reporter, I’m often wandering around poking my nose into everything that goes on in town. I’m always amazed to see so many of the same faces volunteering their time and energy for so many different causes and organizations throughout the district.
I don’t know if people realize how much this community depends upon the unpaid and largely unacknowledged work of our neighbours, friends and strangers both.
Christmas concerts, the recent community dinners celebrated in Burns Lake, Christmas parades and Christmas hampers; all are designed to bring cheer and community feeling to everyone during the holiday season.
Only an outrageously cynical Grinch could find any fault in all this. Some say that people do good to feel good about themselves so that really it all just boils down to self-interest, but that’s ridiculous. There is no self-interest involved.
The only people who could say that are those who haven’t really tried to do good. Doing good for others is a lot harder than it looks. I’m not so involved in doing good for others, but when I see it in action I recognize it clearly. There’s no way that feeling good about oneself could justify the effort it takes to make a real difference in other people’s lives.
The Christmas spirit we see around us this time of year is genuine, as far as I’m concerned. It’s also a little perplexing to me.
I understand why the local churches celebrate the season. It’s part of their liturgical calendar. It’s that season when believers look on in wonder at the advent and manifestation of what they see as God’s love for all people in the birth of Christ.
As a secular holiday, Christmas escapes me. Do we come together as families and close friends because we all just need a break by the end of December? It’s not like the holidays are a relaxing time of the year, so that can’t be it.
Is it just a hold-over from a common religious heritage? That might be it. Perhaps. But can a lingering habit really explain the effect that the season has on people? At the very least, it’s a strange and beautiful time of the year when generosity trumps self-interest.
I hope everyone has found somewhere warm and safe to be this Christmas Eve. Whatever makes Christmas special to you, cherish it.