As the days fly by and we head into the heart of the holiday season, I can’t help but ask, what is this Holiday spirit really about? Even though many people celebrate different traditions during this time of year, it feels like a time when we are all united by feelings of goodwill and charity toward one another. As for me, I was raised in a Roman Catholic household. As a youth, I was captivated by the anticipation of Santa’s visit and the toys he left behind as well as the wondrous Christmas Day celebration with family and friends. Later in life, as a dad, my greatest joy my was witnessing the happiness on my boys’ faces as they awoke on Christmas morning. But the spirit of the holiday season is so much more.
The truth is that the Holiday spirit has different meanings to different individuals. In a secular sense, it is a time to celebrate, give thanks and rejoice in our spiritual and material good fortune. For Christians, it is an opportunity to grasp the religious significance of the day. As Pope Francis once proclaimed, “let us open our hearts to receive the grace of this day, which is Christ himself. Jesus is the radiant “day” which has dawned on the horizon of humanity.”
Transcending his Christian audience, Thomas S. Monson says, “our celebration of Christmas should be a reflection of love and selflessness…giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. We feel more kindly one to another. We reach out in love to help those less fortunate. Our hearts are softened. Enemies are forgiven…The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things…”
The Holiday Spirit is that magical connection that existed on Christmas day in 1914 when soldiers in combat lay down their arms, left their trenches, and shared a day of peace and joy. These men let the humanity of the day override the orders of their commanders, as they danced, sang and shared food with others who had, only the day before, tried to take their lives.
The Holiday Spirit is generous and selfless. Although not a religious text, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, captured this essential element. Ebenezer Scrooge, forced to see the results of his unrepentant selfishness, experiences an existential epiphany, which turns him into a generous and selfless humanitarian. In a world dominated by this sentiment, children would never go to bed hungry or be separated from their parents, nor would anyone be deprived of healthcare because of a lack of funds. I was truly moved when I learned, after my dad had passed, that he would feed six less fortunate families anonymously every Christmas. He understood the true meaning of the holiday.
The Holiday Spirit sees all human beings as worthwhile, without regard to their origin, religion, sexual identity, race, or language. It never ceases to amaze me how many among us can trumpet “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Holidays” with one breath, then spout hateful and divisive rhetoric with the next. If there ever was a time to embrace all of humankind, especially people who are different from us, it is now.
A person who has done exactly that is Dr. William Barber II. I see the true Holiday Spirit exhibited in his writings and his life’s work. For him, faith, hope and charity are not merely pleasant sentiments, but rather a solemn call to action. I first learned about Dr. Barber II after the publication of his book, The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear. In this insightful work, he suggests that it’s time for us to reset our moral compass. It was with that sentiment that Dr. Barber II and eleven other religious leaders donning collars and vestments were arrested several years ago. They stood in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building, loudly reading Bible verses about caring for the poor while the Senate passed a bill eviscerating programs designed to help those most in need. Despite the protest, their efforts fell on deaf ears then, as they do now.
Undeterred, Dr. Barber II instituted “Moral Mondays” in his home state of North Carolina in an effort to bring attention to the poor. Each Monday, he and his followers shed light on various social and economic inequities through acts of civil disobedience. Not surprising, religious progressives have successfully replicated his “Moral Mondays” initiative throughout the United States.
Over fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s poor people’s campaign was stalled by his assassination, Dr. Barber II has picked up the baton. His efforts are fervently nonpartisan but fiercely humanitarian. He has promoted living wages, healthcare for everyone, immigrant rights, gay and transgender rights, criminal justice reform, clean water and clean air. A fellow organizer, Dr. Williams-Skinner, put it this way: “we’re at a very sad state of affairs in this country of almost a shameless disregard for the poor.”
Sadly, despite the righteousness of their cause, their efforts have failed to awaken the moral consciousness of our nation. We are a divided country, more now than at any other time in my life. I never thought I would see the day when people, who purport to be our leaders, are embracing white nationalists, who freely spout their racist and hateful rhetoric. And yet, here we are. I would have thought we were better than that.
It is my profound hope that we, like Scrooge, reflect on the true meaning of the season; that we discard the profane, the material and the inhumane, in order to joyfully commit ourselves to doing acts of goodwill. If we do, our seasonal salutations, be it Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Holidays, will be transformed from a pleasantry to a heartfelt affirmation of our humanity. At that point, my friends, we would have discovered the true essence of the Holiday Spirit.