This is why we now look to others to rescue us from our torpor and to remove the numbness that now resides inside our hearts. Charles Dickens’s character Scrooge is illustrative in what happens to a man when he excises humanity from his heart by replacing it with something else. Worse, Scrooge is not even aware of his pitiable state while he continues blindly down his path to damnation and it takes the proverbial 2”x 4” smacking him right between the eyes to finally awaken him to what he has become.
The Christmas and Hanukkah holidays are a time of reflection, giving, faith, and celebration. Reflection upon one’s own life and experiences is necessary to place your life in context. Without reflection, it is impossible to understand yourself and if you cannot understand yourself then it follows that you cannot understand others. Introspection and examination of yourself is necessary so that you can define who you want to be as a person. In this way you can exercise your will upon yourself and make any changes that you deem to be appropriate or necessary.
Regarding giving, I recall a story told to me by my Grandmother. When she was a little girl on the farm she recalled receiving an orange for Christmas. She told me that the orange was a rarity because the family was poor, but it was the sweetest orange she had ever tasted. Though the orange is long gone my Grandmother remembered it fondly until the day of her death. If we were to receive an orange today as a gift, I have no doubt that many of us would feel slighted, but it is not the gift that matters. It is that someone cared enough to provide something for you.
Somewhere along the line we have substituted money for feeling. If someone spends beyond their means to give us something then we feel special because of the amount spent and in the end we care more about the size of the giver’s wallet than the feelings of the giver. This is why many people’s children view them as banks rather than as parents. But twenty years after that day of giving will you remember every gift that you received? Think back ten years and try to recall every gift that you received then. While there may be a few that are capable of remembering, the vast majority will not. What people do remember are the feelings involved in gift giving and gifts that are hand made by the giver tend to be the most prized of all. A wooden train crafted by a man for his son or a doll house constructed for a granddaughter will be held in higher esteem than any other gift. This is because these gifts contain much higher emotional values than those purchased at a store. Someone had to spend a great deal of time and effort to create them and that this effort was given to you is special.
This brings me to the most precious gift of all, your time. By giving your time you demonstrate that you really care. When we give kids things to occupy themselves aren’t we really just keeping them out of our hair? We work hard, have to put up with all manner of ridiculous annoyances and don’t we deserve a break when we get home? Sure, but why can’t your children be part of your recreation? Don’t they deserve your time and attention? Additionally, don’t you deserve to enjoy your free time with them? I don’t know about you, but nothing breaks up the stress like the sound of a child’s laughter. The more complicated and complex life grows the more desperate the need for the simplicity of play.
Next is faith, which some attribute to a belief in God, but that isn’t necessarily so. Having faith in something outside of yourself is crucial to becoming an independent person. Thus faith is not a crutch, but a tool. Faith is the steadfastness that comes from belief. Belief in God, belief in morals and family, belief in a brighter future, belief that your children will be better than yourself, belief that men are basically good and true, belief that good always triumphs over evil. While these things are not necessarily always true, belief keeps us steady and enables us to survive when we should perish in the storm of doubt.
Without faith we become lost and rudderless on the trackless sea of humanity and unable to judge good and evil because you have no moral compass. This is the danger that people face when they replace God with something else. Worse, even the churches are abandoning faith in the Almighty in favor of a “God is love” approach. This is exactly what G.K. Chesterton meant when he said, “When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything.” This is because something must fill that vacancy within a person’s heart. This time of year intensifies that emptiness because they can see the emotions that they yearn for reflected in the actions of others and it torments them, but there is hope.
The holidays are a time for renewal as well. We can reforge the ties of family and friends. We can strengthen our connections to our spouse and children. We can give our time and energy to those things that we hold dear and we can give thanks for that which is good in our lives. We can reject ideologies and thoughts that hinder us and we can have faith in each other, our values, and in something greater than ourselves. This is the true spirit of the holidays and of life. It is something that should occur year round and not simply on one day a year.
As for myself, I wish you all a happy Hanukkah and a very merry Christmas and may you hold the spirit of the holidays in your heart your whole life!