Joy and Giving at Christmastime

Thoughts of Christmas, necessarily, are a reflection of an individual’s own experiences as one follows a passage through life. The thoughts of joy and giving seem especially joined at Christmastime.

Joy is reflected in Christmas carols such as "Joy to the World." Joy brings an euphoric feeling of well being and it seems to happen, particularly during the Christmas season. It appears to be universal.

Joy of the Christmas season has been shared over the years by all stations in life, from peasants to emperors, kings and czars.

Joy of the Christmas season reflects on civility and simple courtesy. Friends and even strangers share a tendency to be less impatient. Doors are opened and passage is offered more often.

Cheery greetings of "Merry Christmas" seem to lift the human spirit.

Thoughts of joy lead to thoughts of giving. Christmas, in spite of all the efforts of those who would destroy the joy, remains the season of giving.

That spirit of Christmas giving did not originate with the giving of material gifts. It began with God’s greatest gift to man: life itself.

Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby some 2,000 years ago. That baby was Jesus Christ. The story of the life of that baby was destined, through centuries of suffering and martyrdom, eventually to expand across the pages of history to become one of the world’s principal religions, Christianity.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus each year on December 25.

The spirit of giving, particularly at Christmas, is one of personal fulfillment. It matters not the value of the gift; it is the thought of giving that provides the fulfillment.

Christmas is also a time to celebrate the gift of life to children everywhere. Christmas more than any other celebration is a child’s season.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are family time. Families gather in closeness, many around a cozy fire, as no other time of the year. It is a time for reunion and many times it celebrates the first Christmas of the newest member of the family.

The gift giving centers on the children.

This anticipation of Christmas, as I recall, began weeks before December 25. As the day drew near, real Christmas began with the selection of a Christmas tree that miraculously could be trimmed by Santa Claus during the night. Santa would leave presents for good little children under that tree. This belief among little children proved to be a remarkable aid to discipline. No child wanted to receive a bundle of sticks instead of a present.

This wonderful belief in Santa was a very closely guarded secret. No one, not even a villain, would dare destroy that magical belief before a child reached the age of first grade.

The Christmas celebration as we in America know it today came from our European heritage.

The Christmas tree, according to legend, came from northern Germany, when Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and founder of the world’s Protestant movement, witnessed bright stars surrounding an evergreen tree. Inspired by this scene, Martin Luther brought an evergreen tree into the home and illuminated it with lighted candles.

When Queen Victoria married her consort, Prince Albert, who was of German heritage, the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha line, the Christmas tree was brought to England.

The Christmas tree came to America when Pennsylvania Germans, today’s so-called “Pennsylvania Dutch," came to America in the early 1700s.

Santa, the personified spirit of giving, had been known over the centuries in Europe as Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas. In particular the Dutch version, Sinter Klaas, seems closest to our term, Santa Claus. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes Saint Nicholas of Smyrna, a 4th Century bishop.

The connection between Santa Claus and Christmas was popularized by the 1822 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (“’Twas the Night before Christmas”), attributed to Clement Clark Moore, who depicted Santa driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer and distributing gifts to children.

The truly American celebration of Christmas was enhanced greatly in 1863 when German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast gave Santa Claus visible form and character in Harper’s Weekly.

In 1897 an 8-year-old wrote to the New York Sun, asking, “Is there a Santa Claus?” In what remains, a century later, the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language, Francis P. Church answered: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! … There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished…”

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Only the celebration of Christmas can bring such joy and wonderment to the hearts of children and adults alike.

Merry Christmas!