Like most traditions throughout 2020, Christmas looks different this year. Many families will be unable to hold traditional gatherings because of COVID-19 precautions, and many will be missing loved ones because of the virus’s growing toll. Still more will face scaled-back celebrations because of the devastating economic impact of coronavirus.
Rituals that help define the holiday season — decorative lights, festive music, wrapping paper and presents under the tree — have taken on added meaning as we cling to any semblance of normalcy.
Yet while the trappings of the season might appear different, the meaning behind the celebration remains inviolate.
“A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” According to John 13:34, those are the words of Jesus, and they are profound in times of both prosperity and despair, having survived for more than two millennia despite humanity’s penchant for self-destruction.
Those words are the reason we celebrate today.
For Christians, who believe Christ was sent as the savior of the world, the celebration of his birth is a day of distinct meaning. But even for nonbelievers and people of other faiths, the messages that have been attributed to Jesus are worth heeding. For if we love one another and act in accordance with that love, all of humanity will benefit.
That is the power that underlies our recognition of Christmas. Most Americans celebrate the holiday in one fashion or another, and the message of the season is one that can and should linger throughout the year.
Recognizing that can be difficult during times of strife and discord. Along with a pandemic that has upended norms and the global economy, Americans also have lived through a contentious election season and a reckoning with racial justice and an increasing enmity that focuses on our differences rather than our commonalities. The result, for many, is a sense of isolation and desperation that has permeated the entire year.
Christmas can provide a bit of an antidote. Amid the stress about the world around us and concerns about what the future might hold, there is comfort to be found in the message of hope, joy and peace that underlies the season. And there is calm to be found in a belief that the better angels of our nature and our shared humanity ultimately will prevail over our darker instincts.
For it is when love, understanding and compassion become preeminent that the true miracle of the Christmas season occurs. Those traits are highlighted at this time of year, a time when “Peace on Earth” becomes a mantra for both the religious and the secular, with constant exhortations appearing in the songs of the season or on greeting cards and personal salutations.
And while we are quick to embrace those messages of love and peace, we also are left to question why they are limited to a singular season. It is not difficult to find examples of humans failing to live up to our most noble ideals, yet Christmas offers an opportunity — and a duty — for reflections upon how we can better deploy those ideals in our lives.
That is the meaning of the season, regardless of how unprecedented it might be this year in comparison with other celebrations. May we find joy and peace in it.
Merry Christmas to all.