Christmas can and should be about peace, especially this year. There is so much pain in and around us, and the things that divide and conquer us are so petty in the scheme of things. We need a peaceful Christmas this year.
Christmas is a state of mind, where we nurture virtues such as peace, love and generosity. Its not limited to any one religion, any one custom or any particular language. Its a time for all people to recommit to virtues that can and will transform tragedy into true peace.
Take for example this Christmas story about people coming together across boundaries of difference.
A Texan family hosted a rabbi from Russia. It was Christmas time. The family took him to a local Chinese restaurant to celebrate a traditional Jewish Christmas. At the end of the meal, the waiter brought the check and presented each of them with a small brass Christmas tree ornament. They all laughed when someone pointed out that the ornaments were stamped “Made in India”, but the Rabbi began quietly crying. The family assumed that he was offended by the focus on Christmas but he smiled and said to them, “No. I was shedding tears of joy to be in a wonderful country in which a Buddhist gives a Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu.”
That is awesome Christmas spirit. There are so many versions of the Christian Christmas story. The one I like to remember challenges intolerance, a story where astronomers, neither Christian nor Jewish, are the first to greet Mary and her baby. This version of the Christmas story is a testimony to diversity and radical inclusion.
So many of our memories and resonance with Christmas comes through music. Consider a few Christmas songs. The carol It Came Upon a Midnight Clear was written by a Unitarian minister in response to the Mexican American war. It is a call to live in peace. Another Unitarian, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote the carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, after getting news that his son had been critically injured in the Civil War. Do You Hear What I Hear was written in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
So many of the carols are written as encouragements to live a life of peace and hope in times of crisis.
The meaning of Christmas for me is to instill a war like world with kindness and compassion. The Christmas spirit is to put the needs of other people before your own personal agenda. The Christmas work is to overcome intolerance, conflict and elitism in the interests of global unity. If we can reclaim this Christmas meaning, then Christmas can become a holiday for ALL people to celebrate.
Maybe the greatest Christmas story of the modern era came out of WWI.
On Christmas Eve, 1914, there was an unofficial Christmas truce. About 100,000 British and German troops ceased fighting along the Western Front. It began when German troops decorated the area around their trenches in a region in Belgium. Initially, the Germans placed candles around their trenches and set up Christmas trees. They then started singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides then shouted Christmas greetings to each other. Soon, soldiers got out of the trenches into “No Man’s Land.” Small gifts were exchanged; food, tobacco, alcohol, and souvenirs. The region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed time for recently-fallen soldiers to be buried. Joint Christmas services were held, and in many places, the truce lasted through Christmas night, and into the New Year.
The Christmas truce was featured in a 2005 French film called “Joyeux Noel.” In English that means “Merry Christmas.” The tragedy is that the fighting had to start again. But it did provide a moment when peace was shown to be possible. When Christmas ends, the work of Christmas continues. Declare peace these Holidays; peace on Christmas, peace to those you disagree with, peace with diversity, peace with yourself. It all starts with the way you look at the story and the world, beginning with yourself. Peace to ALL this Christmas and ALWAYS.
As Norman Vincent Peale said,
Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.