Friday, December 24, 2004

And so this is Christmas....

In 24 hours, it will have begun. Has it been frantic? Hectic? Stressful? Manic? Insane?

And this is a holiday? A day separated from others, set apart for happiness, pleasure, joy, refreshment, something good? Is something wrong with Christmas?

No. Not really. What's wrong is only with the celebration, the idea that Christmas "comes" at a single point in time, appears at a certain moment, is ephemeral as a soap bubble, is gone the moment you grasp it, is available only to children, and then only in the joy of ripping open packages and tearing into boxes and tossing aside ribbons in a great pile of waste and tape, to get at the pearl inside every quite beautiful square oyster.

This is not Christmas, but only because Christmas is not a solitary moment. It is a holiday; something set apart, for the pleasure of the company of family and friends, for the enjoyment of human contact or quiet time or respite from worldly duties, or for worship, which is a respite all it's own.

Christmas is not the haste to be ready with all the cookies and cakes and pies prepared, and the turkey stuffed for the oven and the decorations pulled out and all put where they were last year, and the perfect memories planned before they happen. Christmas is the time, and how you spend it. In fact, "spending it" is the wrong metaphor. We don't spend time; it spends us, so long as we treat it as an economic cycle, something earned or stored or only dealt with wisely when it is "spent well." We don't spend time; we live in time, bounded by mortality, by the womb and the grave. We are spent by time when we think we control it, have power over it, dole it out or keep it tight-fisted, used only for our benefit, for what we think we see we want and need. Spending time is not Christmas.

Christmas is letting ourselves fully into time. It is the holy-day, the set apart day, the day kept pure by letting it keep itself. Ideally, it isn't even a day; it's all twelve days, enjoyed wholly in themselves, one into the other, kept less by observance than by thoughtful living. Thoughtful living, and living for others.

That, too, is Christmas. That is what is almost lost, right now. That Christmas is about others.

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