More than two thousand years ago, a man named Joseph traveled with his future wife, Mary, to a little town called Bethlehem. There, the couple became parents of a newborn who entered the world surrounded by farm animals in a stable. For Christians, the newborn's birth was one of the most significant historic events to ever occur.
Some three centuries later, a bishop named Nicholas traveled throughout Europe, reportedly offering gifts to needy children. The legacy of Saint Nicholas was transformed into that of Santa Claus, but the tradition of gift giving remains to this day.
Many of us commemorate the birth of Jesus and the heritage of Saint Nicholas when we celebrate Christmas. Research indicates that 85 percent of Americans identify themselves as Protestants or Catholics, and the remainder find it difficult to ignore the brightly-lit trees and nativity scenes in our communities. Whether your family observes Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Christmas, December brings one of the most spiritually-inspired celebrations of the year.
Although the origin of gift giving has been attributed to a religious figure, it has been converted into a secular tradition. The meaning of Christmas is often lost in that transformation, and the focus is no longer spiritual. Indeed, the emphasis of the holiday is often on the food and presents, rather than family unity and making memories.
Have your family traditions lost the original meaning of the holiday? Do you find yourself worrying more about spending money and getting your decorations up than you do about making memories? Is December a time of frustration, guilt and greediness in your home? Are you taking time to enjoy the simple pleasures of the season?
If you are tired of overspending, overworking and being under appreciated, then it's up to you to change your focus. Perhaps it's time to talk to your children about the events that prompted the celebration. Remind them that the reason we give gifts is to make others happy, not because we want to impress them or because we owe them anything.
Remember the real reason for the season. Go to your local charity and write a check, or donate gently-used clothing and toys to needy children. Take time to visit an elderly relative. Really listen to them, and give them your undivided attention. Go to a local nursing home with your children and watch the residents' faces light up when they see the youngsters. Attend your local church or synagogue over the holidays. When you take your child to visit Santa in your local department store, don't forget the one who is ringing the bell over the red bucket near the front door.
Before you dive into the pile of brightly-wrapped gifts under the tree, remember why the tradition endures. You can read the original Christmas story from your respective version of the Bible, or you can have each person cite something that they are thankful for before they open their gifts. If you are fortunate enough to have your parents and siblings around you at Christmas, appreciate them. Put aside your differences for the occasion and give your cranky old uncle a hug. Accept your sister-in-law's bossiness with a smile, and thank your folks for their unlimited affection. Leave your hurt feelings on the doorstep this year. Remember that the focus should be on giving gifts that money can't buy - friendship, acceptance and understanding.
Whether or not we focus on the Biblical expression of Christmas is a personal matter, but the meaning we bring to our own celebration is something we can share with others. Regardless of your religious beliefs, your spiritual focus can transform your holiday into a reflection of your appreciation for the real reason for the season. Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year!