I grew up in a Protestant church that believed in a literal interpretation of the King James Bible. Since there is no mention in the Bible of Dec. 25, the church refused to make Christmas a religious observance. Baldwin pianos and Hammond organs were verboten for the same reason.
In that they are probably right, since Christmas was adapted to a pagan festival. There is no written record of when the Christ child was born. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop my family from observing Christmas, since, like most families with small children, Christmas was more about Santa Claus than Jesus. The fact that the preacher kept saying we don’t know when Jesus was born never stopped me from enjoying beautiful Christmas music, the delights of the Christmas tree, a big dinner and, of course, the gifts.
Holidays are what we make them, and getting together with family members and exchanging gifts is a good thing, whatever the excuse. Charles Dickens’ immortal story about Scrooge makes no mention of religion, but it certainly involves the conversion of an old, lonely and bitter man into a man who discovers the joy of giving. The joy of giving was certainly something supported by the preacher, and we were given two chances to experience it every Sunday — three, if you count Sunday school.
That old pagan genius, Aristotle, arrived at the same point as Dickens, but with, of course, much more elaborate analysis, classifications and categories and subcategories. But after all of that, Aristotle decided that the end goal of man was happiness. Our own Revolution was fought for the goals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness can be defined in different ways by different folks, but most of us can agree that happiness is the goal we all seek.
My own limited observation is that happiness is in inverse proportion to self-centeredness. I have never known self-centered people who were happy, whether they were the paranoids who imagined themselves to be so important that everyone else was talking about them, or the simple, chronic complainers. You know the type. If you say, "My, what a beautiful day," they will reply, "It’s probably going to rain tomorrow."
Most of the happy people I have known are people involved in things outside of themselves — family, religion, various causes, even politics and sports. I spent a week in a small Georgia town, and as a stranger and alone — and especially as someone trained in journalism — I eavesdropped on conversations wherever I happened to be. Nearly all of these conversations were happy talk about family, friends, church and sports. On the way back to Florida, I stopped at a rest area where a group of old ladies from South Florida were getting back on their tour bus. Their conversation consisted of complaints about their arthritis, their gallbladders, etc., and so forth. I almost turned around and went back to Georgia.
Let us resolve, therefore, in this season of good cheer and in the coming new year to avoid grumps. Let us resolve to find things other than our own physical bodies with which to occupy our minds. It really is true that making someone else happy feels good and that making someone else sad feels bad. I don’t hate much in this world, but one of the things I do hate is the sound of a child crying. There is a cause worth pursuing: finding ways to help children laugh instead of cry.
Another worthy cause is adding beauty to this world. In Lake Wales, Fla., there is a park free to the public that contains the Bok Tower. It was built and presented to the American public as a gift by a grateful immigrant, Edward Bok, a pioneer in magazine journalism who never forgot the admonition of his mother to add beauty to the world. Planting flowers and picking up trash are good and worthy activities.
I have strayed far from Christianity in this piece, but the main and most difficult message Jesus brought to this world was to love people. Some people are easy to love, but some are not. Learning to love those who are not easy is probably task enough for the lifetime of a Christian. It is so difficult a task that you have to wonder why some Christians spend so much time with vituperation and political invective. The last time I checked, God was not a Republican.
Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner.
© 2003 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.