What makes the Holidays so special? It can be “the most wonderful time of the year,” like the song says. But why? It’s not easy to put our finger on the exact reason why there’s certain mystique that comes with the Holidays … for those who choose to get into the spirit.
As a kid, growing up in Minnesota with plenty of snow, it was always a “white Christmas.” However, the picturesque setting isn’t what made the season so great. It’s a special time of year for folks living all around the globe, including places that never see snow. For those who dream of a white Christmas, the snow is a trigger for good memories of past Christmases.
Making time every Christmas, or Hanukkah, to spend with family is very nice, but in our family we get together often, throughout the year, because we like each other. It’s not unusual (though we might be).
Maybe it’s the celebration of Christ’s birth that makes the Holiday season seem so extraordinary, even “magical.” It is, without question, very important to us Christians. But I don’t think that’s the main reason for the different vibe during the Holidays either. The birth occurred without much fanfare and was rather unremarkable as compared to the immaculate conception, the resurrection, or the promise of salvation. We don’t seem to have the same collective awe or feeling of wonderment during the Easter season (there aren’t a lot of Easter Carols or Easter Trees).
Instead, I think there’s something special that comes from a season in which the norm is doing for others. Whether it’s donating a few bucks to bell-ringing Santas, making cookies for friends and family, taking time to pick out just the right gifts, or even simply saying “Merry Christmas” to strangers, there’s an improved sense of happiness when we have an excuse to focus on others rather than ourselves. This is the norm for our friends who celebrate Hanukkah too.
Ever since I was old enough to pick out and buy my own gifts for others, Christmas has had a lot more meaning. Giving Christmas gifts has always made me feel better than receiving them, but I didn’t really understand why. It seems intuitively unreasonable that giving would feel better than getting. But I believe there is a design, a plan, that does not make sense logicallly. Our culture – and human nature to some extent – is very focused on getting our “fair share.” It is tempting to be motivated by envy and greed. But the counterintuitive secret to happiness and fulfillment comes from doing for others and giving of one’s self – not getting all we can or all we think we deserve.
Now, some scoff at that reality and say that there are no truly magnanimous acts because people are motivated by the good feelings they get when they do nice things for their fellow man. But, to me, the act of doing for others (though against our selfish nature) is choosing to follow a higher calling and the good feelings that result are from the Holy Spirit and sensing more closeness with God and his purpose.
During the Holidays, we get a tiny glimpse of that feeling of peace which surpasses all understanding. Its power is overwhelming. There is a palpable difference that comes with the spirit of doing for others.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that spirit of giving were the norm all year? It can be.