During the dark, heavy days of late-fall and winter, I find myself retreating within, spending more time at home, often in contemplation. It’s the time of year when I enjoy curling up with a good book, though the types of books I read are different from other seasons. I’m attracted to stories that don’t just stimulate my intellect or curiosity, but that speak to me on a deeper level, that talk to my soul. And for this kind of book, there is no better author than Thomas Moore.
In his new book The Christmas of Soul, Moore talks about the darkness of winter. He feels it too. He reminds us that our darkest day of the year, the one with the least amount of sunlight, is December 21. From that day on we gain more light each day–and in ways that are both real and metaphorical, Christmas celebrates this coming of the light. In Moore’s words, “This natural turn of the seasons helps explain the timing of Christmas.”
Christmas makes sense only if you know the experience of darkness–the experience of not knowing what is going on, not knowing your way, not seeing life for what it is, failing, losing and suffering. Then the turn toward light has a real impact. The more you know the dark, the more you will appreciate the light.
Moore gets to the heart of the meaning of Christmas, putting into words feelings that, left to our own devices, we would struggle to describe. This includes the significance of the nativity scene and the guiding star of Bethlehem, as well our holiday rituals like bringing freshly cut trees into our homes and listening to Christmas music. For Moore, “The Christmas spirit is the spirit of a new and different way of life.”
At Christmas time we take a break from the ordinary and turn some of our serious rules upside down. At this time, we spend more money than usual, if we have it, eat foods off our normal diet, and invite people we rarely see into our homes. These momentary indulgences are of absolute importance because they speak to the soul.
While Moore appreciates the rituals and pageantry that surround the holiday, he never loses sight of the religious aspect of Christmas. He once wrote that we need to “put more Santa into Christmas” and he deftly tells us how the two aspects of the holiday are intertwined.
I now see how Christmas and Jesus’s vision line up, and I see that the enchantment of Christmas is a taste of what would be possible if human beings could really love each other…the infant in the manger symbolizes the new life in me, the potential I have to be a new kind of being dedicated to agape, to a love of the other whoever he or she is.
He also writes of how he gets in the spirit, telling tales of Christmases from his youth, while mentioning how his perspective of Christmas has evolved over the years (Moore is now 75).
I don’t look for perfection, but for joy and happiness. At Christmas we don’t wish each other perfect lives but only “comfort and joy”…central to the Christmas message is to be merry, to have a hopeful, positive and optimistic attitude, even if your health is bad or life is not at its best….seeing the beauty and goodness of life, in spite of all the bad stuff.
Moore advises us on how we might get even more from the holiday, suggesting that we “step outside of ordinary time: be of good cheer, give some real gifts, make some good food, and spend more time than usual with friends and family.” His parting words close this story and are worth remembering; they are a reminder of the powerful way Christmas can touch us all.
If you take Christmas to heart and get past the anxieties in arranging for gifts and parties, you will rediscover yourself every year. It will be a celebration of both the birth of Jesus and the birth of your own soul.