Editorial: The Season

Christmas has come, ringing its bells, singing its songs.

The season, as it is called in tribute to its omniscience and pervasiveness, its non-hostile takeover of the better part of December, is a busy time. Card writing and cookie baking, office parties and charity events, gift shopping, tree decorating, stringing yards and rooftops with colored lights.

Still, it is a time when a society too often obsessed with other things calls for a pause and tries to focus on things that really matter. People make a point of doing the things that keep our human connections alive and thriving. They volunteer, collect coats for the homeless, buy toys for tots they don’t know, make donations to charities, put bills and coins in the bell-ringing Santas’ buckets. It might be a mom stopping by with some cookies for an old friend she hasn’t seen in too long. Or a kid shoveling snow from the front walk of the old couple next door. It can be heard in the holiday greetings exchanged by people on sidewalks and in stores — sometimes by people who see each other often, for one reason or another, but also by near or total strangers, folks simply sharing the season’s spirit, wishing each other well.

There’s more — another, deeper river of tradition and belief. Our December’s season of good spirit celebrates one of the foundational stories of our culture. At its heart is Christian celebration and faith — Christmas as it lives in beautiful old carols and midnight church services. This is the story and celebration of a birth in Bethlehem ages ago, below a bright star. It was a humble birth — in a stable, they say — of a child who grew up to be a preacher and teacher. And in a world of emperors and armies serving proud, angry deities, he turned the old warrior values on their heads. He preached tolerance and forgiveness, not judgment and vengeance. The meek are blessed, he said, not the great and grand. He saw honor in the work of the plow, not the sword. And though he was sentenced to death, his followers had heard his words in their hearts and sought to live those truths. They spread the message. The empire that had given the preacher a criminal’s death came to adopt his creed, and sought — imperfectly — to champion his truths.

And we, cultural and religious descendants of both the empire and the preacher, now set aside this time each year, the season, to feast and make merry, to share greetings and gifts, to make donations and do charitable services, to sing of the humble birth and the bright star, and to gather and pray — pray that the future will bring to us, that we can succeed in creating for ourselves and our children, a world built on that stable-born teacher’s great and simple truths: tolerance and generosity and kindness, peace on earth, good will toward men.

—M. Reid