This year as we approach the Christmas season, the phrase ‘peace on earth’ is taking on a more pressing meaning.
With the frequency of global terrorist attacks ripping apart any semblance of calm we may have felt, I think we can find more hope in this holiday – and in its raw simplicity – than perhaps ever before.
There are other things influencing the holidays this year as well – I’ve always believed the Christmas season tends to sadly magnify some of the differences in our society – between those who have wealth as opposed to those struggling to make ends meet, for example. The season doesn’t magically remove the inequalities of society, that’s for sure. And this year, many in our province are all the more under huge financial pressures with the waves of job losses that have swept over Alberta in recent months.
Because of that, Christmas might be a simpler, scaled-down holiday for many. The distracting abundance of past years may have to be set aside for many, but that’s a good thing. The real spirit of Christmas, after all, isn’t found in a pile of presents, decorations, food or busy malls.
As I get older, I appreciate more fully what Christmas really points to – the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope and salvation that He brought and brings to our world. I also try, in my own way, to preserve what the holiday points to in my own small way – I tire of watered-down, bland almost meaningless expressions like ‘happy holidays’.
Nothing expresses the richness and depth of this time of year quite like simply saying, ‘Merry Christmas’.
Beyond that of course, it’s a celebration that we treasure. I know I do – I’m one of those people that just can’t resist digging out the Christmas music in, well, mid-October. Much to the chagrin of many family members, co-workers and friends. I can’t help it. Music essentially mirrors what it’s all about, and it helps me settle into the Christmas spirit.
Ultimately, for me, the word that comes to mind when I think of Christmas is ‘warmth’. My parents made every holiday season as special, memorable and fun as possible – I have nothing but a collection of wonderful memories of childhood Christmases. Looking back, I don’t have so much a specific year in mind that stands out in terms of Christmas. It’s more like looking through a big book of memories packed with photos, mementos, cards and such – all kinds of moments come to mind.
One of my favourites is recalling how we would pile into the frozen car on Christmas Eve to attend the 11 p.m. service at Gaetz United Church. I can still remember the effects of the flickering candles on the stained glass windows, the carols that were sung and the true meaning of Christmas being shared through a simple message and scripture readings. I remember those services like they were days ago – surrounded by all the grown-ups and taking in the wonder of it all.
Another local highlight for me as a boy was visiting City Hall Park, which at the time featured a nativity scene complete with Mary, Joseph, the wise men and of course the baby Jesus. Nestled in the midst of the brightly-lit park with strings of lights decorating the nearby trees, it was a rather powerful sight to behold.
Ultimately, one of the best things to me about Christmas as a child was how little it changed year by year. I loved the comfortable predictability of it. We did virtually the same things year after year, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
These days, as a man in my mid-40s, the season is just as special. It’s different now in many ways, however. And of course as an adult, I look at it differently. But the comfort and peace of the season is still there – if you are willing to take the time to look for it.
And following a year that has seen much in the way of suffering on a global scale and life-altering economic hardship for many right here at home, I hope and pray that comfort and peace are felt all the more this year as well.