Cheer in the air...

NOT JUST SANTA

Cheer in the air...

The 1990 blockbuster hit, Home Alone, which made Macaulay Culkin a world-famous celebrity and viewers around the world roll in laughter over the family comedy, will go down in history as one of the most celebrated movies of the modern era.

Comedy interspersed with some heart-warming conversations, the captivating presence of mind of a child and the moving love of a mother for her son woven brilliantly together, made the movie a runaway success. But if we were to single out one enchanting aspect of the movie, it could well be the dazzling Christmas atmosphere that formed the backdrop of the movie, giving the screenplay a delightful effect. To me — and for millions around the world — the buoyance, bonhomie and brotherly kinship that engulf the December air around Christmas time is enthralling and contagious.

Christmas that embodies love, peace, joy and goodwill is perhaps the most sought after and enjoyed spell of the year the world over.  Parties, time-out with friends, holidays,
family time and merry-making are at its peak this time of the year.  It’s all about revelling and being part of all that is good about life and living. But time and again, the question emerges, is there more to Christmas beyond Santa and the stockings?

The timeless message 

It’s a cold, chilly night. The chosen place is a rundown stable. The ambience is nothing more than cattle and poor shepherds from the nearby hills. Holy infant lies there in a manger, beside Mother, braving the nippy air. The dark night is desolate and bleak. But then, there appears, a lone star shining bright, glowing above, dissipating the gloom, lighting the earth below, spreading cheer and heralding the birth of the newborn. The choirs of heaven trumpet blast songs of praise, in tandem. The dead of the night is woken mystically by the life of the divine child. The numbness, the frost and the biting iciness give way to an endearing and warm terrestrial sphere. An inexplicable joy and
a heavenly peace lace the dilapidated surroundings. Goodwill and harmony outshine the humble stable of Bethlehem. It is  “Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright, round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.”

This familiar and oft-read scene of the nativity of Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago in an obscure village in Jerusalem says it all. Every Christmas, just like the first Christmas is — and ought to be — all about humble places, the common folk and life’s most treasured themes of love, joy, peace and goodwill.

Starting with the modest stable where Child Jesus was destined to be born, the message is loud and clear. Decking up our homes with tinsels and balloons, brightly-lit Christmas trees and neon lights, no doubt, add to the festive spirit. Even so, the true Christmas spirit is in letting our inner light shine for others. When we turn on our inner lights of compassion, understanding, fairness, tolerance, charity and the like, the inner glow is enough to light the darkness of poverty, oppression, despair and injustice in the lives of the less privileged around us. This is the true radiance of Christmas.

Moving to the first guests, the shepherds, who visited the baby in the manger, the first Christmas highlights the place the lowly and the humble take in the grander scheme of life. Christmas has always been — and will continue to be — for the poor, the meek and the needy of society. The spirit of Christmas is retained and celebrated in honouring and caring for the marginalised. Whether it is food, money, our time, attention or just a warm smile and a hug, giving to the poor generously will ring in the same Christmas spirit and cheer that warmed a few humble shepherds that cold night centuries ago in the stable.
 
Finally, the true Christmas spirit abounds in hearts that love, those who spread joy, people who make peace and carry goodwill with them. He who has these elements in his celebration has “kept Christmas” as it was meant to be when the Child Jesus was born.

In good company

Ultimately, the Christmas spirit is in reaching out, in crossing borders, in being inclusive, in going beyond immediate circles in universal brotherhood and kinship. A story from World War II captures and drives home this truth that is the core of Christmas.

It was the year 1942, and the American consul ordered citizens home from the Persian Gulf, for fear they might get caught in the spreading conflict. Travel was difficult, and some civilians secured passage on the troop ship Mauritania. Passengers included thousands of allied soldiers, 500 German prisoners of war and 25 civilian women and children. The ship travelled slowly and cautiously, constantly in danger from hostile submarines patrolling the ocean depths. It was Christmas Eve and they had travelled for a full-two months.

They had only made it as far as the coastal waters of New Zealand and all on board were homesick, anxious and frightened. Someone came up with the idea of asking the captain for permission to sing Christmas carols for the German prisoners, who were surely as homesick and lonely as the passengers. Permission was granted and a small choral group made its way to the quarters where the unsuspecting prisoners were held. They decided to sing Silent Night first, as it was written in Germany by Joseph Mohr and was equally well-known by the prisoners.

Within seconds of beginning the carol, a deafening clatter shook the floor. Hundreds of German soldiers sprang up and crowded the tiny windows in order to better see and hear the choristers. Tears streamed unashamedly down their faces. At that moment, everyone on both sides of the wall experienced the joy of universal brotherhood. Hope and love broke down the barriers between warring nations and, for that moment, all were one family.

Festivities and celebrations mean nothing when done in isolation. In Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, the master storyteller spins an unforgettable tale around the mean miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. Though fiction, Dickens brings to life the truth that surrounds the universal law of love begetting love, etching in the minds of the readers the power of universal brotherhood. Although Ebenezer lives most of his life as a stingy and selfish loner, he wakes up midway through life, after the restless night of ghost visitations, to a new beginning. He starts afresh and lives the rest of his life as a model of generosity and goodwill toward all.

Let us then ring in the true spirit of Christmas, which as J C Penny puts it as, “A spirit of giving and forgiving.” From this flows life’s treasured gifts of love and peace that will abide through the rest of the year. The plentiful cheer can then be lasting, going beyond Santa and the stockings!

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