I’ve always loved Christmas, but I think I’ve lost much of the spirit as I’ve gotten older. Now that I have a young son—who enjoys baking cookies with his mom and eyeing presents under the tree, while struggling to behave under the eye of the “Elf on the Shelf"—I find myself recovering much of what I’ve 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 Christ is born, is the start of just that sacrifice. I cannot fathom giving up my son, but on the other hand, I know just how much I would sacrifice for him.
Keeping the spirit alive
At the heart of the holidays, that’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about: a transcendent decision places the immediate aside, with the promise of the future shining so brightly that the darkness of the present fades. You do not 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, just because they are part of what makes us human. And it’s in stories like these where we can keep the spirit alive.
Christmas comes at the winter solstice, the death of the year. And in death, there is rebirth. As I write this, the days are getting longer, and, although it will be weeks or months until we notice, it’s happening nonetheless—even as it grows colder. Solstice festivals occur in every religion, reflecting our common humanity regardless of the immediate context. Christmas is just the Christian instantiation of this age-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 young boy still 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.
I also think of the victims of war, of terror, of mass shootings, and of what their families must feel when they look at holiday decorations. I think of the people who cannot afford what they want to give their children for Christmas. I think of people without family or friends, for whatever reason, and I know the season can make them even more lonely and unhappy than before. My heart goes out to all those suffering—may you find happiness, love, and peace in the new year and better days ahead.
Santa may not be real, but the spirit of love and giving is. I choose to be Santa for my family, to help my son know life's hope and joy, even as I know he will certainly encounter its pain at some point. Hope and love will win, if men and women of goodwill choose to make it so.
Merry Christmas to all!