Looking for the Soul of Christmas
By Paul Graves
Every year, Santa Claus, festive holiday decorations, incessant playing of “Christmas music,” and frantic gift-buying saturate the weeks from early Thanksgiving through Dec. 25. Every year, they remind me it’s time again to look for the deep-down soul of Christmas.
This year, the Grinch joined me in my search, and he was very helpful! From his perch on Mt. Crumpit, he had his “wonderful, awful idea” to steal the Whos’ presents, decorations and Christmas trees. And he succeeded.
The next morning, again outside his cave on Mt. Crumpit, he listened for the Whos’ wailing and moaning that Christmas wouldn’t happen. Instead, he heard the Whos singing joyous songs. He hadn’t stolen Christmas from them after all. Maybe the soul of Christmas wasn’t about the decorations, presents and trees.
As he pondered that, his heart began to melt. Maybe that melting allowed his heart to grow three sizes! Maybe the soul of Christmas was located somewhere else than he had assumed. And of course, it was!
I wonder if the Grinch story is so popular because it reminds its thoughtful readers that the soul of Christmas is, indeed, not where we look for it. If you look more deeply into Dr. Suess’s delightfully subversive story each Christmas season, where do you look for the soul of Christmas?
I personally find the search more productive when I remember that Christmas is not merely a cultural holiday. That Christmas is pretty “Grinchy;” that is, pretty shallow. So I look deeper for the soul of Christmas.
Yes, good things happen when “good will toward all persons” is the spoken of and acted out. Just look at how our country is responding to the horrible devastation of those tornados on Dec. 10. Yes, our basic human goodness is regularly tested, and we usually pass that test.
But if we let our holiday enthusiasms remain superficial, where can we look for the soul of Christmas,? Isn’t there something more to Christmas than our smiley greetings and generous spirits to others? Indeed, there is!
So, let’s remember that Christmas didn’t start in Whoville, but in a Bethlehem manger long ago. Looking for the soul of Christmas begins there.
The Christian tradition calls Jesus’ birth God’s Incarnation – God becomes a human being. It’s always the most tangible way God finds to express love for humanity – and it’s how persons can best express love for one another. The soul lives in love! Every person’s soul flourishes when that person can freely love, and lets himself/herself be freely loved.
Who gave you a gift this Christmas season that most reminded you how loved you are? Someone you easily love in return? Or maybe it was a simple gesture from someone you normally don’t associate “love” with.
What happened after the Grinch returned everything to the Whos? How did we get to the feast and the roast beast? Something caused the Whos to forgive the Grinch!
What? Dr. Seuss doesn’t say. Somehow, the Whos discovered the soul that God has instilled in every person!
It’s easy to love someone who loves you. But what happens when you’re challenged to love someone who looks like an enemy?
Someone needs to say “I forgive you.” The Whos somehow found a way to say that. And that led to a deeply soulful act: reconciliation.
So perhaps carving the roast beast was a simple way the Grinch could say “Thank you for loving me, for forgiving me, for closing the gap I created between us.”
Does someone need you to forgive them, to reconcile with them? Your answer is where you’ll find the soul of Christmas!
Paul Graves is a retired and re-focused United Methodist pastor and a long-time resident of Sandpoint, Idaho, where he formerly served on city council and mayor. His second career is in geriatric social work, and since 2005 he’s been the Lead Geezer-in-Training of Elder Advocates, a consulting and teaching ministry on aging issues. Since 1992, Graves has been a volunteer chaplain for Bonner Community Hospice. His columns regularly appear in the Spokesman-Review’s Faith and Values section and he also writes the Dear Geezer column for the Bonner County Daily Bee and is the host of the bi-weekly Geezer Forum on aging issues in Sandpoint.