On this eighth day of Advent, Norman Vincent Peale, the founder of Guideposts, encourages us to let the true meaning of Christmas influence the ways we celebrate the season...
Day 8: Let Christmas Happen to You
Christmas is a season of joy and laughter when our cup of happiness brims over. Yet increasingly we hear negative remarks about what a burden the holiday season has become.
This indicates that something is wrong somewhere because Christ never meant His birthday to be anything but a glorious event. Christianity is designed for the transmission of power from Jesus Christ to the individual; a Christ-centered Christmas, therefore, should be the year’s climactic experience.
Perhaps we need to use more imagination in recapturing this experience in a personal way, like some creative people are doing.
For example, in front of a Texas gasoline station there hung a big sign last December which read: “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my customers. The $150 that would be spent on your Christmas cards has gone to help the Rev. Bill Harrod bring Christmas cheer to West Dallas.”
In another section of the country a church congregation was asked to bring in all the old clothes they could spare for distribution to the needy. One family sent in all new clothes, bought with money diligently saved all year to buy each other Christmas presents.
Such giving surely expresses the true meaning of the birthday of Our Lord. We best honor Him when we live the examples He set. An act of mercy that reflects the inspiration He gave us will create a deeper satisfaction and happiness than giving or receiving the most expensive gift.
Ten years ago the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Hansen of San Bernardino, California, died of cancer. She was seven years old. After time had healed some of their grief the Hansens realized their little daughter had taught them so much about a child’s love that they wished to perpetuate what she had given them.
They decided that Mr. Hansen would dress as Santa Claus and together they would visit every bedridden child in town who could not see Santa in the stores.
In two years they were so busy each Christmas that the Elks supplied a gift for each child they visited. Mr. Hansen learned magic to entertain the children, then collected amateur entertainers and developed a show for each visit.
There were so many homes and hospitals with love-hungry children that the Hansens eventually decided to make their Christmas visiting a year-round project.
The Psalmist says: “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.” Psalms 77:11.
The early Christians celebrated Christmas by remembering the works of the Lord and the wonders of old. It was a day for gaiety, but not for excess. There is something blasphemous and pagan about using the birthday of Jesus as an excuse for exaggerated and commercialized giving and heavy drinking.
How many people do we all know who make gift-giving a burden because they spend beyond their means? In their effort to keep up with the Joneses many actually go into debt.
They would better express the spirit of Christmas if their gift had more understanding in it than money. Here is an example of what I mean:
In Hewlett, Long Island, the Jewish residents formed a congregation, but did not have a temple, and met in a store. The membership outgrew the store, and right before the Christmas holiday they started a building drive for a temple.
One of their neighbors, a Roman Catholic named Ricky Cardace, turned over his filling station to his Jewish friends on Christmas and New Year’s Day. They would operate it, and all the receipts would go into their building fund.
So giving at Christmas can take many forms not measured by dollars. Here are a few simple suggestions for such giving:
A gift you make yourself is more appreciated—something as simple as a fruit cake or a letter opener; a surprise photo of someone’s house, babies or pets.
A couple we know painted the porch and front door of their parents’ house. To the giver it is a labor of love; to the receiver an offering of love.
The members of one family, during a financial crisis, made personally, by hand, all gifts for each other. This particular Christmas was such a joyful one that its plan has been continued ever since.
If you know of a mother who would like to go out to church, or other activities, but cannot afford a baby sitter, why not give her a gift certificate for a dozen hours of baby-sitting for the year to come?
Send Christmas remembrances to those who would least expect it from you; the people we often encounter but do not really know: the neighbor who nods good morning daily; the people who clean your office or workroom; the officer who directs traffic at your comer. Best of all, the person you’ve been most annoyed with!
Making it a point to find out more about these people is an enriching experience. Get the thrill of trips to a hospital, orphanage, a jail. Also it is a wonderful Christmas adventure to help the families of such unfortunates.
Often it is left to children to show us the way to a happier Christmas observance. The ninth grade students in Scotch Plains High School, New Jersey, decided among themselves to pool all the money they had meant to spend on Christmas gifts for each other, in class and school observances, and give it to those who needed it more.
With the advice and help of their local post-mistress they chose the Muscular Dystrophy Fund as the object of their generosity.
In one Western public school the sixth graders were told that in many other lands the religious expression of Christmas was its most important element, and gift-giving a minor and more often a separate part of the celebration, generally held on St. Nicholas Day.
Since these lively youngsters had always been under the impression that gifts were the ultimate expression of Christmas, they were understandably surprised, and asked:
“How then should we celebrate the holiday?”
Their teacher asked them all to find the answer in the Bible: One boy wrote out this answer:
“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me …” Matthew 25:35-40
That was a good beginning, the teacher told them, and suggested that they find the least of their brethren in their own town. They did, and began to collect their Christmas Fund in a big, empty jar.
On Christmas Day there was enough in the jar for Christmas dinners and gifts for two families. And the children themselves took their gifts to both families. On the way back one of the teachers saw a little girl tightly clutching the empty mayonnaise jar that had held the Christmas fund.
“I’m going to put it under my tree at home,” the little girl explained all aglow, “to remind me of the loveliest Christmas I’ve ever had.” Let such a Christ-like Christmas happen to you. You’ll like it better than any Christmas you ever had.
This story first appeared in the December 1954 edition of Guideposts.