While mentally outlining my usual and fleeting notions of losing weight, exercising more, and becoming a more thoughtful person, I was interrupted by reading Howard Thurman’s “The Mood of Christmas” to reconsider my resolutions. (Thurman, according to Wikipedia, was an American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. He was Dean of Chapel at Howard and Boston Universities, wrote 21 books, and cofounded San Francisco’s Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the first integrated, interfaith religious congregation in the United States. He died in 1981.) I think he got “the work of Christmas” right.
Many years ago, as holiday stresses overwhelmed my enjoyment of the season, I decided to change how I participated in it. It was relatively easy to eliminate chaotic mall visits, most gift buying, card writing, fevered cooking and decorating and entertaining, but then what? We had moved halfway across the country and friendships had not yet developed, so we decided to try a trip away from home to divert our attention from old habits. That decision began our experience of Mexico, and the Virgin of Guadalupe festival that precedes Christmas celebrations in that culture. The gifts of fruit and flowers that are carried into the parish church, the mariachi music that rattles windows and rolls down the street through the processions, the tolling bells, the children’s faces, the aromas of food vendor stalls, and pleasure of witnessing expressions of faith entwined with national pride was a complete change from our old customs. For more than twenty years now, this has been our preference for the perfect Christmas holiday.
If the festival itself isn’t enough, placing this experience in a natural environment that only engenders awe, and sharing it with friends, makes it the kind of spiritual holiday I choose over all others. It is replete with gifts that never end.