By James Dillet Freeman
Excerpted from the past Unity Magazine® column “Life Is a Wonder.”
Every year about this time people begin to find fault with Christmas. They say, "It's too commercial"—and it is. They say: ''I'm not going to send Christmas cards. It's expensive nonsense"—and it is. They say, "People only give gifts when they think they're going to get some back"—and often that is the case. They say, "Children are taught to believe in illusion when they're told there's a Santa Claus"—and so they are. They say, "Good heavens, the stores are putting up Christmas decorations, and it's barely Halloween"—and that's so too. They say, "Christmas is supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus!"—and it's true that many celebrate Christmas in ways which have little to do with religion.
All these charges are justified, at least in part. Christmas is commercial, it's worldly, and it's wasteful—but what if there were no Christmas?
I have read how the Puritans used to rail against May Day, which was once the favorite holiday of all Europe—boys and girls went out with their May baskets into the fields and woods and gathered posies, then danced around the maypole in the town square. I am sure it was a loose and pagan occasion, as the Puritans claimed. And they succeeded so well that for many years May Day was mainly a parade of giant tanks and nuclear missiles in Moscow while fighter planes roared overhead. But do you think the world is better for that?
If those who do not like Christmas succeeded in reducing it to the solemn day of churches and chants and prayers and sermons they want it to be, would we be better? Would Christmas?
Winter is a dreary time for most of us—cold, wet, and hard to get around in. Days are short; the nights are long; clouds darken the sky; and snow encumbers streets and highways. What if we just slid into winter and the dark and chill seeped down around our hearts; what if when we walked down the streets, there were no decorations or lights or Santa Clauses ringing bells at Salvation Army kettles; what if when we turned on the radio, there was no one singing the carols that have rung not only in our ears but in our souls since we were born; what if there was no one saying "Merry Christmas!" to anyone; what if there were no impatient lines of wide-eyed children waiting in countless toy lands to mount on Santa's knee; what if there were no stories about Scrooge and Tiny Tim or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; and what if there were no tale of a star and angels and Wise Men and a virgin birth in a stable—what if there were none of these?
What if there were no Christmas!
Thanksgiving is a staid holiday—oh, we usually overeat, but the day has the stiff and sober character of the Pilgrims with whom it started and whom it still commemorates.
And it would be a long, work-weary time from Thanksgiving Day to Easter if the only holidays we had were holidays like Washington's or Lincoln's birthday—oh, there's New Year's Day, but isn't New Year's part of Christmas? Really, Christmas is not a day, but a season. It starts on Thanksgiving—or before for those who are in hurry—and it runs till New Year's—or Twelfth Night for those who hate to see it end. There are high points and low points along the way, but they are all part of Christmas.
Christmas, like spring, comes on gradually. Its first signs appear in store windows and newspaper ads as soon as Halloween is over. Sometime in November street decorations start to go up. The lights come on in shopping centers by Thanksgiving, and the wise shopper is buying presents by then. By the first of December people are out buying Christmas trees, and a sprinkling of carols begin to sound on the radio. Then like a tidal wave Christmas engulfs our senses and our souls, and we are inundated by temptations, expectations, excesses—by the many things to look at, listen to, and take part in that are Christmas. The wave crests with Christmas Day, but it rolls back slowly through the long school vacation and the succession of celebrations that are capped by New Year's and Twelfth Night.
Christmas celebrates the birth of the Christ, and those who complain about its lack of religious content have a right to do so, for to most people it is not a time of churchly observances. Hardly anyone goes to the trouble to separate what is religious from what is not. Carols, Christmas trees, candlelight, decorated houses, Santa Claus, the virgin birth—they are all mixed together in one delightful froth of wonder and exhilaration. It all seems somehow religious, no matter how unreligious it may be—“Jingle Bells" lifts our spirits as much as any hymn, and Rudolph is as beloved as, say, the donkey that bore Mary to that holy night.
But is this wrong? Would we not all be better for it if our religion were so intermeshed with our day-to-day living and our day-to-day living so laced with religion that we did not think of them as separate and hardly knew when we were about which?
I do not think we would be the holier for giving up Christmas trees and Santa Claus and gift giving or even Christmas cards.
Christmas is a flowering. Ancient truths, too important, warm, and deep for words—truths about ourselves, about our world, about our lives—have found expression in these lovely forms that are our ways of celebrating Christmas. They were planted in our minds long, long ago, some beyond all known events or recorded memories, and they have grown through many centuries. They have grown because they satisfy in natural and joyous ways our happy fancies and our deep-down needs. We have a wish and a necessity to express our wonder and love and joy and delight in beauty and in one another—yes, and our faith that if the spinning globe we inhabit wobbles toward winter, it will wobble back again to spring.
Take Santa. "Illusion!" you may say, and I suppose he is. But if we are going to give our children an illusion—and oh, how many we do give them!—could we give them a lovelier one? What would we have them grow up believing—that the world is a bare and grim affair, a thing of atomic and economic laws, or that there is also in the world a selfless and happy spirit?
And is this belief that there is such a spirit an illusion? I know there are many who would teach us that reality is dark and painful. But is it? I believe that most of us find there are more sunny than rainy days in our lives. Reality turns out to be, on the whole, pleasant, if not always as exciting as we think we might wish; it is our dank anxieties which make up most of our illusions, our worries rather than our hopes which hardly ever come true.
And take Christmas trees. If they come down to us from pagan times when natural objects were considered holy, are we the worse for that? In a world where we usually reduce everything wonderful and worshipful to natural terms, is it not a happy event when we elevate a natural object like a tree to a thing of wonder?
And as to the commercialism, if once a year we are induced to stretch our giving muscles beyond their daily lack of use, are we the worse for that?
Christmas even turns our thoughts around about the weather. At any other time, let clouds threaten or the merest powder of a snow sprinkle the streets, and we shiver and complain; but at Christmas we peer out, not in fear, but in anticipation of snow, and we ask one another eagerly, "Do you think it will be white?"
Christmas is a way we human beings have of saying that we need not submit to the tyranny of the seasons and the inevitability of circumstances.
Christmas is a season, but it is a season not so much accounted for by the inclination of the earth's axis toward the sun as by the inclination of the human spirit toward joy and light and warmth.
Christmas is affirmation that though the cold winds may chill our bodies and the short days darken our world, they will not chill our spirits nor darken our lives.
If our world grows winter gray, we will paint it Christmas bright. We will create—if only for a little while and only out of tinsel and papier-mâché, fir boughs and candlelight and bits of colored glass—our own imagined world, if not the way the world is, then more the way we feel it ought to be.
If there were no Christmas, it would be as if a light went out along a dark street we have to walk along by night.
There will always be a Christmas. Why? Because as long as the Earth shall wander around the Sun and as long as human beings shall inhabit it, there will be the love of light when the lights dim and the love of color when the colors fade and the urge to rekindle the fire when the warmth begins to slip away.
There will be wonderful tales and delight in telling them.
There will be the generous desire to share our good with others.
There will be the urge to set a candle—in our window and in our mind—and watch it cast its little light across the fleeing darkness.
There will be children—some young, some not so young—falling asleep at night with visions of waking in the morning to a world of dreams come true.
There will be singing of old familiar songs.
There will be worship at which we gather to bow down before the august and gentle Mystery we sense at the secret core of being.
So there will always be a Christmas, even if in some far off time all our present names and symbols fade from memory, for it celebrates the deepest and dearest impulses of the human spirit—all that is warm and bright and generous—the delight in wonder, the need to worship, and above all the power to rise above the tyranny of time and things.
This year let us celebrate it joyously, even with a little abandon—the right kind of abandon, that is, the abandonment of selfishness—by giving ourselves, by giving ourselves generously, to those we love and to those less fortunate than ourselves.
Used with permission of Unity World Headquarters unity.org
James Dillet Freeman (1912–2003) was a well-known poet well loved by millions. His poems are on the moon. Born in 1912, James Dillet Freeman began writing verse at the age of 10. By the time he finished college, his poems had been published nationally. His affiliation with Unity School of Christianity began in 1929, at the invitation of Unity cofounder Myrtle Fillmore. Freeman served as director of Unity's ministerial program for 20 years. He also served as director of Silent Unity®, a worldwide prayer ministry, and was a member of the Board of Trustees and first vice president of Unity School, now Unity Institute® and Seminary. In 1984 Freeman retired from his positions in order to devote more time to writing and speaking. His work has been translated into 13 languages, and it is estimated that published copies of his poems exceed 500 million. He has been published in The New Yorker, Saturday Review, The New York Times, Scientific Monthly, Reader's Digest, and many others.
"Life happens. Life in the flow."
We learn over time that nobody can solve our problems, but someone can guide you how to solve the problem. You may receive guidance through a teacher, a guru or even strangers that you run into every day. As we practice yoga we learn that the more we know, the less we truly know. Every day I am reminded how much I truly do not know; a very humbling experience.
Yoga teaches me to be present. To just live for being and enjoying life as it is right NOW. Not ten minutes from now, no five days ago, but right now. We are taught to get out of our heads, to release worries and fears of the past or the future and to only live for this very moment. Presence.
"Lead me from untruth to truth, lead me from darkness to light." ~ Buddha
Through yoga we are reminded that we do have a dark side as well as a light side. We are not to repress the dark side, but embrace that side of our Self. We are the yin and the yang. We ultimately cleanse the dark stuff we hold inside. We shine the light on this. We must make friends with dark side. Both positive and negative balance out the whole. Daily practice refines and improves our inner vision to see our Self more clearly. We no longer need to run from fears. Face them and say I'm not running from you anymore. So much is in our heads, so much dark is only in our heads, self-doubt judgment betrayal. Yoga grounds the body so that the light and dark sides of ourselves become clear. So much is truly untrue. But as we diligently practice we are able to find the middle ground and walk our centered balanced line in life. We gain balance in centered lightheartedness. We can have harmony in both light and dark.
"Yoga tells us that the world is actually a projection of our own thoughts and we can modify our inner world to manifest into our outer world. When our inside realm is at peace and in harmony, our outer world shines this projection back at us." ~ David, Jiva Mukti Yoga co-founder
Yoga is observation.
We can observe our world and see what part that is in us is begin reflected back to us. We can then see what part of us needs modification or adjustment in order to have our outer reality reflect back to us the peace, happiness and love we so greatly desire and deserve.
Yoga is already inside of you. Happiness is there. Yoga helps you peel away the onion layers to get to the core. To freedom. The deepest Divine connection to the Ultimate Light Source.
Come out of wanting and back into acceptance and Joy. A yogi or yogini can turn any situation into bliss. That is a yogi. Yoga is being now. Ultimate yoga is meditation. Just BE.
Yoga is love.
"Love is the light that dissolves all walls between souls." ~ Paramahansa Yogananda
Through a dedicated practice of all forms of yoga we can participate in the world with a sense of freedom, unaffected from trauma, depression, anger, etc. The freedom is balance in both.
Maggie Anderson is a Yoga & Spiritual Teacher, Reiki Master Teacher, Integrated Energy Therapy® Master Instructor, Soul Coach®, Past Life Coach, Magnified Healing® Master Teacher and Angelights Messenger. She is the author of How I Found My True Inner Peace and Divine Embrace. You can contact Maggie at SpiritualCompassConnection.com.
"Follow Your Bliss. It's Your Spiritual Compass."