It seems that every year more and more people remark that “if just doesn’t feel like Christmas.” Comments like this beg the question, “What does Christmas feel like?” For many of us, it is easier to say what Christmas does not feel, as opposed to what it does feel like.
The “feeling of Christmas” is often lost in the rush of buying and wrapping, in the baking and cleaning, in the writing and shoveling. In an attempt to find the “feeling of Christmas,” many seek to retreat to the memories of years gone by to recapture a time that “felt like Christmas,” but this feeling remains rather vague and defies description. We want everything to be perfect at Christmas, forgetting that the first Christmas was not what we would call the perfect celebration.
Some long for a white Christmas, finding the “feeling of Christmas” in the cold and snow, but if the snow and cold continue into January and February, the “feeling of Christmas” does not. Others turn to their favorite Christmas movies and cartoons, but watching these in the summer does not produce the “feeling of Christmas.” Still others look to a favorite cookie or even to a particular place, but these do not bring about the “feeling of Christmas” at other times of the year either. What, then, is the authentic feeling of Christmas?
The more we search in vain for the feeling of Christmas by turning to nostalgia, the sadder we begin to feel and the more we wonder what is wrong. Why can we not find the Christmas spirit? The answer is simple: Too often we forget that “our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.” In the hustle and bustle and the increasing commercialization of this most sacred of days we forget what Christmas is all about; we forget that the true feeling of Christmas is joy, a joy which cannot be found in the incidental aspects of our celebrations but only in the poor and humble manger of Bethlehem. Try as we might, we cannot produce this joy on our own; this joy, the authentic feeling of Christmas, is only brought about by faith.
Far more than snow and trees and presents and gatherings and shopping and eating, Christmas is about joy, about authentic joy. The message of joy is the very message delivered by the angels to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
But the only way this joy can enter into us is if we are first willing to acknowledge that we need a savior, one who will save us from sin; without the necessity of a savior and an openness to his coming, the proclamation of the angels is not a message of any importance. If it does not feel like Christmas, we must ask ourselves, in all honesty: “Have I prepared and opened my heart to welcome this Child who has come to save me from my sins?” It is in this openness to Jesus that the feeling of Christmas is found; he lifts our sadness and enlightens us with the joy of salvation.
It might seem obvious that the joy of Christmas is intimately connected to a deeply-held and lived faith, but sometimes we need simple reminders. As Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, “True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others.”
If you want it to “feel like Christmas” this year, open your heart to the merciful God who “never tires of forgiving us” and humbled himself to become one of us. Open your heart anew to this Child so that by receiving him you may receive everything.