Although many retailers try their best to convince us that “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” are the most important days in the Holiday Season, we know better. In fact, the word “holiday” comes from the old English word for holy day, and not even the increasing commercialization of Christmas can drown out the sacred joy of this holy time of year. In the United State we recognize our national day of Thanksgiving at the end of November, about a month before we celebrate Christmas, which I find to be a highly appropriate start to the Holiday Season. Indeed, in the progression of the holidays (or holy days) from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s Day, I find many parallels with steps an individual might take when striving to become more Christian.
One of the first requirements of becoming a true Christian is an open heart. Thanksgiving, both the holiday and the attitude, softens our hearts and prepares us to more purposefully celebrate the advent of Christ. In giving thanks, our focus inevitably shifts outside of ourselves, as it is almost impossible to be grateful and selfish at the same time. Gratitude also increases humility, as we realize that we are not solely responsible for our good fortune, and so, is also an antidote to that most pernicious and pervasive sin, pride. Furthermore, remembering our blessings is one of the best ways I know to overcome trials. Not that gratitude actually changes the nature of our troubles, but it provides a mature perspective with which to consider our problems. And remembering how we have been blessed in the past gives hope for additional blessings in the future. With hearts so softened by our thanksgiving, we enter the Christmas Season, less burdened by our trials and with hearts more prone to recognize generous promptings and spiritual insights.
Even the commercial aspects of Christmas are often driven by a generous impulse to find the perfect gift for a loved one. And think of the exuberant excitement a child, who has tried a little harder to be good, when they receive a highly-anticipated gift. But most important, throughout the month of December we celebrate the greatest gift the world has ever known, God’s gift of his son Jesus Christ, and through Christ’s atonement, the ability for each of us to be saved. Mention is often made, even in secular settings, about the Spirit of Christmas, and I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit is more abundant throughout the world as so many celebrate Christ’s birth by spending a little more time with family, giving a little more to the poor or less fortunate, remembering His life a little more often through song and worship services. At an individual level, cultivating a closeness with the Spirit of Christ helps to guide us and keep us in on the right path (or to lead us back when we wander). We can’t effectively effectuate the process of becoming Christian alone, and the most sublime miracle of Christianity is that we don’t have to when we accept Christ’s greatest gift to us, the ability to overcome our mortal frailties and mistakes.
We cap off the Holiday Season by celebrating New Year’s Day. The passing of the old and coming of a new year, which appears brighter because of the renewing and refreshing of our souls at Christmas. On New Year’s we look forward and set goals because we hope to be better; we hope not to return to some of the things we have cast off. We have felt of Christ’s grace in our lives and we desperately want lasting change. The good news is that this desire, coupled with our sincere effort even if feeble, is what Christ asks of us, and the Atonement which has enabled us to overcome past sins and misdeeds, is equally powerful to assist us in achieving our righteous New Year’s goals in the future.
My prayer this Season is that some of the grinchishness that I have in my nature will be changed as I worship in true spirit of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. For as the Grinch, Scrooge, I and many others have learned, tis the Season when hearts are prone to enlarging. It is my testimony that in Christ we can become new creatures. In my experience this process is iterative and needs to occur many times over, and so I’m grateful that this Holiday Season comes along each year to inspire me. Of course I’m equally grateful that the process of becoming more Christian is available year-round through faith, repentance and the power of the atonement.
May the Lord bless us this Season-- every one!
Jonathan W. Tanner