Every movie on television during the Christmas holiday seems to follow the same progression. The setting is usually a small town, and someone in the town has a lot of money and very little Christmas spirit. Their excessive wealth and greed make them an easy villain, but someone in town sees that there is more. As the movie goes along, the "ice" on the miserly individual heart begins to melt, and by the end of the film they have realized the true meaning of the holiday ... usually as snow begins to fall.
There are definitely instances were this isn't the case, but if you are married or dating someone who loves the Lifetime Network as much as my wife does, you will see plenty of made for TV films with Roma Downey and other sitcom castoffs to last you the rest of your life. It is not my intention to rail on and on about these films, but to explore the idea of the holiday spirit, or true meaning of Christmas.
To me, Christmas is marked by a number of small things, not big ones. First, the smell of cinnamon or pine will send me to Christmas time no matter what month it is. Often, I'll make my way down the candle aisle at the store just to pick up a cinnamon candle and give it a quick sniff. Also, the memory of lighting candles will put me into the holiday mood, even if they aren't scented. As a child, I can remember the entire family getting together for just a few minutes each night light the candles on our Advent wreath. The lights in the living room were usually off and the only light we had was coming from the candles. It usually took less than 10 minutes to say our prayers and discuss small portions of the nativity, and when it was over, all five of us would go our separate ways. But the simplicity of those moments always filled me with a peace and a hope.
I realize that to use the word hope, usually a person would follow it up with what they were hopeful for. And that is one thing that makes Christmas such a beautifully unique time. The Christmas holiday is a time when we can feel that anything is possible if we just believe hard enough. It is the central idea behind what Christmas is. Whether you believe in the birth of Jesus Christ or you believe in Santa, or both, you are filled with a belief that the holiday means more than mass commercialism.
The past few years have been tough on many people throughout the Mahoning Valley and the country as a whole. We have watched as friends and loved ones are deployed to war, not knowing if they will come back. We have watched an already difficult economic situation slide further into recession. For some of us we have lost people that we love, or have lost our only means of income.
Whatever the situation we find ourselves in, many of us can take just a moment and look at the lights on a Christmas tree and think that things will get better. Maybe it is a combination of things that makes us feel this way. The calender year is coming to an end, fresh snow comes and blankets everything in a pure white, and the world can seem, however briefly, like it is starting over too.
I have come to learn throughout my life that it isn't the stuff under the tree that makes Christmas such a special time. It is Christmas itself, in whatever way you see it.
In 1897, a very famous editorial was published in the New York Sun. The piece, written by Francis P. Church, was in response to a little girl's letter asking if there was a Santa Claus. "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" is widely published during the holiday season to this day. In it, Church describes how sad and "dreary" the world would be if he didn't exist, and I look around and fear that we are now realizing life without that belief and that hope that Santa Claus is real. I have spent the past five minutes of your time describing the hope and feeling of the Christmas season as I remember it as a child. It was pure and full of hope and happiness, but far too often we are filled with the need to shop, cook, rush, plan, etc. ... all to the point of realizing that we have missed the holiday entirely.
As we go along over the next several weeks, whether we are sitting in our car waiting for the impossibly long stop lights by Eastwood Mall, or ordering our daily coffee from the Mocha House, try to remember what this all felt like when you were a child and how you couldn't wait for the day to finally arrive, instead of dreading everything related to the day.
We should all be so lucky as to have the blind faith and untarnished belief of children that there is something in this world that is truly wonderful. That there is something in this world that we can believe in, no matter what anyone says.
Yes, Trumbull County ... Yes, Mahoning Valley ... Yes ... Yes ... Yes, there is a Santa Claus in every one of us, and we need to look as hard as we can to find him. We can find that hope again, as long as we truly believe.