“Merry Christmas.” Even though the words have been trampled left and... left, they’re still spoken repeatedly during this season. Sometimes, I get the feeling that they’re spoken so often that the meaning is worn away. And, so, I’d like to take a moment to contemplate what it means to wish a person “Merry Christmas.”
This isn’t about racing around trying to meet the commercial expectations of the season. No mortal -- and probably very few immortals -- could keep up with Mad Ave. This isn’t about ribbons and bows and noisy toys and carving the roast beast. Even the Grinch figured that out, with a heart two sizes too small. And it isn’t even about sitting down with just your family, with those high expectations of everybody getting along and making blissful memories.
To begin with, we all know Christmas itself is a day of celebration. It’s the miracle of birth, and, moreso, of forgiveness. Linus recites the Gospel according to Luke in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, wherein the messenger comes to the shepherds with the words, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people”. Catch that: all people. He goes on, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Simeon, later in the same chapter, describes the child as “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” This is no exclusionary act. It is an invitation to share in happiness. Jews and Gentiles alike are given this gift.
The word is, for all we do wrong in our everyday lives, no matter how many times we goof up, no matter how badly we behave toward the one who loves us most, we still get this fabulous gift of forgiveness. We mess up every day. We say the wrong thing, we do what we’re told not to do, and, in the end, so long as we’re loved, we’re eventually forgiven. Ask, and ye shall receive. And every year, we have one particular day on which we are reminded of this gift. Many, in return, choose to turn around and give to others, passing the light on. Not a bad arrangement, some might say.
We don’t always (or, for that matter, often) get what we wish for. When we do, accept it with good grace, and thank the one who sent it your way. If it’s something worth sharing, pass it around. My favorite of these gifts is “good will toward men”. No assembly or batteries are required, no instruction manual is necessary. Just look toward your neighbor and try thinking good thoughts. Granted, with some neighbors (like me), that’s a little tougher than it sounds, but I think it’s well worth the effort.
You don’t have to believe in one particular set religion, one brand of faith, in order to find joy in this day. In fact, even if we can’t follow that specific scripture, because something in us denies it -- such as, we were raised under a different set of beliefs -- the least we can do is be happy for those who have found joy in this annual message.
That’s where the other half of the now-trite phrase comes in. Have mirth. Be famously happy. If you can't get that far into the mood, at least release some misery from your life. It doesn’t matter whether or not you belive in a two-millennia-old miracle. Let winter snow and ice block in your car, but not your spirit. Sing a little song or two. As the saying goes, make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Then again, if that’s too much to ask of you, why not make a joyful noise unto yourself? Sing a nice holiday tune while you do your chores. And, while it may be a great gift to yourself, if you pass it on, it’s not a bad gift to have somebody return to you, either.
And so my small offering this season is a wish for... with or without Mel Torme’s chestnuts roasting on an open fire... and though it’s been said many times, many ways... Merry Christmas to you.