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The Heart of the Season

Text by: Sue E. Peterson

We grow up and misplace the magic of Christmas. We work to create magic for our loved ones, but sacrifice it for ourselves in the name of maturity, sensibility, and adult reality. We try to see the holiday through the eyes of the innocent, but the sparkle dims as we rush, wrap, bake, trim, spend, and fret.

How can we recover our Christmas purity? Perhaps by stripping Christmas to its bare bones.

© Elizabeth Ellenbecker Photography

Under the wrapping, behind the tree, next to the ham, strung up with the lights is one simple principle: Love.

Christmas was sired by love. It has endured the centuries because of love, and the magic it produces is watered by love. We rush, wrap, bake, trim, spend, and fret for those we love. Our holiday affections even lean towards those we have never met, and we find ourselves giving to strangers. The heart-warmth of the season softens us and knocks the hard edges off our everyday selves. If we give ourselves up to this celebration of tenderness, we find ourselves doing things totally uncharacteristic of our January through November selves.

© Felicity Photography

Unfortunately there is the reality of the "work" of Christmas. Try as we might to ignore them, there are presents to wrap; crowds to fuss through; a few of those special treats we just have to bake; a tree that can't sit there with naked branches; concerts and dinners that etiquette - and desire - requires we attend; and dollars we have (or don't have) to slip through our fingers. These things are often fun - all by themselves - but they must be mixed into the everyday that doesn't seem to take a vacation during the holidays. Christmas elves do not have your laundry on their to-do lists; nor does the house run from dirt and clutter at this time of year; it welcomes it in with open arms. Try as we might to hang onto the happy part of Christmas, fatigue and stress can sabotage it.

There is no one, cross-generation, all household, every-cultural-covering solution to the mass hysteria Christmas can often become. It can be one big noise. There is a chance the answer to our own meaningful, personal Christmas celebration can be found in an unexpected spot: our own heart.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

In a quiet moment, sit and think of what you expect from the holiday season. Are there things you do that don't satisfy you based upon your holiday expectations? Are there activities you lead your family through that aren't necessary to accomplish your vision of the "reason of the season"? Are there things you've wanted to implement you feel would be important for you and yours? What present activities can be eliminated so these new events can be implemented? What are the traditions that must be carried out? What are the traditions you can do without? (It isn't blasphemy to replace one holiday tradition with another.)

© Jessica Ceason Photography

It seems one of the constants of Christmas is service to others. At this time of year, you hear of acts of kindness and the marvelous feelings that bless the giver as well as the receiver. These acts seem to combine to knit a warm blanket that covers the entire earth for a season. There are the grand acts of service to perform all around us - so many are in need - but there are also random, small acts of kindness that don't require much planning or money to carry out: Raking a neighbor's yard, or shoveling their driveway. Returning your grocery cart, so the store employees don't have to. Paying for the car behind you in the drive-thru. Caroling at a rest home. Taking a plate of cookies to the fire or police station. Picking items off the floor at the store and putting them back on the shelves. Providing the 12 Days of Christmas for a new neighbor. Volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Smiling and offering a kind word to the checker behind the counter. Letting someone cut in front of you in line. Packing the car with people and driving around to see the Christmas lights and decorations. Making a blanket for the homeless shelter. Donating toys to the local pediatric hospital. Secretly doing someone's chores for him or her. Helping out in your child's classroom.

The list can go on and on. Once you get your head in the direction of serving others, you'll be surprised by the ideas you come up with. Filling your Christmas holiday celebration with kindhearted acts for others can often mean the difference between "The holidays were okay, but something was missing," to "This was the best Christmas ever!" It all comes back to the bare bones of the holiday: Love.

© Credits? Photography

So find a quiet moment, stir up a cup of hot cocoa (because, as we all know, chocolate can get the ideas moving), get a pen and piece of paper, and decide what your Christmas really needs to be.