A gift of awe and wonder

The perfect gift for people running from one store to another would be a sense of awe and wonder, to remember that Christmas isn’t about buying.

Christmas means different things to different people and different religions — or the lack thereof — but it isn’t about shopping frantically for stuff neither we nor the people we plan to give it to need.

It isn’t working ourselves into a frazzle or an illness to make sure everything is just right for people who don’t particularly care whether it’s perfect, or notice if it were.

We know Christmas is too commercial, yet we’re mesmerized by the glitz and the sizzle, by the PR campaigns that say buy, buy, buy; that we need this and our lives won’t be complete without that.

We give our souls to a PR man’s campaign to sell us things we don’t need. He laughs at our gullibility and collects his cheque while we wonder how to pay the Visa bill.

We need a new vision, and a simpler idea, like the one articulated by Francis P. Church 119 years ago. While he was answering a question from a little girl named Virginia, the meaning of what he wrote is as relevant now as it was when it appeared in the New York Sun in 1897.

The power of his words has not been diluted by time and in this skeptical age, is needed now more than ever.

Each year, the editorial — Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus — is dusted off like a Christmas decoration and packed away again with the tree ornaments.

The essence of Christmas is, however, an idea that can be practised year-round.

“The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see,” Church wrote. “Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.”

That’s the part many have trouble with; that’s where we need the bigger idea. Some believe what we see is all there is and are afraid to take that leap of faith and be willing, or at least be open, to the possibility that there is more than we can see, smell, hear, taste and touch.

We know the senses are poor witnesses because they have failed us so many times; they have painted pictures and written stories that were simply not true.

“You cannot go beyond your own self-accepted image. As long as you underestimate yourself, you cannot succeed in life,” Raymond Charles Barker writes in The Power of Decision.

“Never judge yourself by what you have done. Judge yourself in terms of what you will do. You are not the past. You are the present becoming the future.”

We could start by re-imaging ourselves as Christmas believers. There is nothing wrong with shopping and buying.

It’s heart-warming to give things to people we love. But when we stampede from store to store desperately looking for a gift for that hard-to-buy-for person, love can turn into resentment.

Shopping meditation can help relieve the anxiety. Meditation is much more than sitting crossed legged chanting mantras. 

It can be anything done anywhere. It can be shopping if we do it consciously rather than automatically. Shopping meditatively can remove stress and silence the internal screams to hurry, hurry, hurry.

Osho, an Indian meditation master, helped a 30-year smoker break his habit by having him turn it into a slow, conscious act.

“The head is impotent,” he told the smoker. “It can start things, but it cannot stop them so easily.

Once you have started and once you have practised so long, you are a great yogi — 30 years practising smoking. It has become automatic; you have to de-automatize it.”

The smoker became a non-smoker within three months.

We, too, can choose to de-automatize our ideas about Christmas and about shopping. Getting out of the car, walking into the store, searching, choosing, lining up, taking out the Visa card and picking up the present can be slow, conscious, even graceful acts.

We would remember to be gracious with the clerks and our fellow shoppers. We would remember to smile. We can decorate the tree, wrap presents, cook dinner and greet guests with that same ballet of purpose.

Many people have, of course, already changed their attitude about Christmas and the gift-giving deluge. Instead of buying a present and sticking it under the tree, they donate money to charity, whether to The Daily Courier's Be an Angel Fund, the Salvation Army or the food bank.

According to the website Benefaction, "Research suggests that giving time and money to good causes makes us feel happier, although it might be the case that happier people give.

"Although giving to charity isn’t perceived to be a substitute for receiving, the two often work well together – which is why ethical gifts or products such as charity Christmas cards are so popular."

There are numerous charities, national and local, that people generously support. Maybe we are beginning to realize, even unconsciously, that we are linked in the web of life.

“You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart," Church wrote.

“Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.

"Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.”

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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