Behind glass and in a weathered frame, an embroidered sampler hangs on my office wall. It’s dated 1883. On the left side is a simple Christmas tree outlined in green thread and highlighted with ornaments and candles; on the right is an embroidered Scrooge quote from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”
Its charming style suggests the work of young hands learning embroidery. Years ago, I bought it in an out-of-the-way antique shop in Pennsylvania, where we lived at the time, as a Christmas present for my mother in California. With her love of both Christmas and children, it seemed to call her name For three decades she had it on her living room wall, returning it to me as a gift a few years ago when she took ill.
Its message is the one I need this year. While holiday music plays, festive decorations abound, wintry weather nips, and gift ideas and special programming work to nudge me toward holiday cheer, my skepticism continues to rise. Where is Christmas?
Last month our presidential election cycle finally ended after endless bouts of rancor unparalleled in my decades as a voter. I’m worn out and numbed from months of vicious attacks, mean-spirited antics, hurtful lies, and unending hostility. When did civil dialogue cease and anger and hatred replace compassion and understanding?
As Christmas approaches I’m not thinking of gift-giving but worrying about our hardening hearts and societal divides. I’m not singing carols, but losing sleep. Have we forgotten the message of Christmas? Where is our love and goodwill? Our compassion and understanding? When will the best of who we are as people and citizens emerge again?
Granted, some years are easier than others to keep Christmas in our hearts — to remember the message of love that it brings. And perhaps this year that’s the point — we need to try harder, or try again, or keep trying to find our real Christmas; to connect our actions with its meaning; and like Scrooge, to wake up to the many worlds beyond our own.
In the scheme of things, Christmas is where it’s always been; it’s in my heart and yours — in our generosity of spirit, openness of mind, compassion of actions. It’s in how we live our lives, honor and support our differences, listen to and hear each others’ concerns and hopes, work together to build a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren, and embrace our humanity. Christmas is in our loving thoughts, words, and actions.
It is my Christmas wish that those who celebrate Christmas embrace with positive action its message of love and that we “hold it in our hearts all the year.” We need love in our hearts to heal this country, this world, and ourselves. And as the song lyrics remind: “Let it begin with me.”