As 2014 draws to a close, it's time for my traditional Christmas post. Best wishes to you and yours this holiday.
I have always loved Christmas. But as I grew older, I seemed to lose much of the spirit. Now that I have a six-year-old son—who is wrestling with the stress of being good under the eye of the “Elf on the Shelf,” guessing about presents under the tree, and baking cookies with his mom—I find myself recovering much of the Christmas spirit I had lost.
This is wonderful, but, as a father, I also find myself reaching deeper into the meaning of the holiday.
The idea of sacrifice is at the heart of both Judaism and Christianity, and the notion of a father sacrificing his son is fundamental. Christmas itself, when the Christ child is born into the world, is the start of just that sacrifice. I cannot fathom making that kind of sacrifice—of giving up my son. At the same time, I understand just how much I would sacrifice for him.
Which of course is where the power of the stories comes from. Anyone hearing them knows there is a transcendent decision that puts the immediate aside, with the promise of the future shining so brightly that the darkness of the present fades.
You don't have to be a believer to recognize this power—the power of hope, of belief in a future that is worth any sacrifice. Some stories are so deep in our bones that they affect us whether we believe or not. They're part of what makes us human.
Christmas comes at the winter solstice, the death of the year. In death, we also see the start of rebirth. As I write this, days have started to lengthen again, and, although it will be weeks or months until we really sense them growing longer, it is happening nonetheless—even as it continues to get colder.
Again, solstice festivals occur in every religion, a reflection of our common humanity regardless of the immediate context. Christmas is just the Christian version of this ages-old celebration.
As a father, I find the conjunction of death, rebirth, sacrifice, and joy especially meaningful. With both sets of grandparents here, with a small boy desperate for Santa to arrive, with the hope of a new year and a new spring not that far off, I find myself quietly joyful.
At the same time, my heart goes out to parents who have lost children, and I imagine the sorrow they must feel when they look at holiday decorations. I also think of parents who cannot afford to give their children what they want for Christmas, and people without family or friends, for whom this season can be a particularly lonely time. There has always been pain in the world, and there always will be.
Still, hope and the promise of a new spring remain. Santa may not be real, but love and the spirit of giving are. I choose to play Santa for my family, to help my son know the hope and joy of life, even as I realize he will also feel its pain at some point. In the end, hope and love will win, if men and women of goodwill choose to make it so.
Merry Christmas to all!