What becomes of Christmas, when the day is gone? It is the gladdest day of the year. It is celebrated in all Christian lands. The churches observe it, sometimes with great pomp and splendor, with stately music and elaborate ceremonial, sometimes in simple, homely worship. It is kept in homes, with happy greetings and good wishes, and universal giving of gifts. Everyone, even the miser, grows generous at the Christmas time. Men who are ordinarily cold and unmoved toward human need, wax warm-hearted in these glad days. People everywhere rise to a high tide of kindly feeling. There is scarcely a home anywhere, however lowly, which the Christmas sentiment does not reach with its kindliness. Public institutions—orphanages, hospitals, homes, prisons, refuges, reformatories—all feel themselves touched as by a breath of heaven, for the one day.
What becomes of all the joy when Christmas is over? Does it stay in the life of the community afterward? Do we have it in our homes the next day and the next week? Do we feel it in the atmosphere of our churches? Does it stay in the hearts of people in general? Do the carols sing on next day? Does the generous kindness continue in the people’s hearts? Does the love in homes rich and poor abide through the winter?
Two or three years ago, in one of our cities, an Oriental was giving his impressions of our American Christmas. He said that for weeks before Christmas, people’s faces seemed to have an unusual light in them. They were all bright and shining. Everyone seemed unusually kindly and courteous. Everyone was more thoughtful, more desirous of giving pleasure than had been his accustomed. Men who at other season of the year had been stern, unapproachable, were now genial, hearty, easy to approach. Those who ordinarily were stingy, not responding to calls for charity, had become, for the time, generous and charitable. Those who had been in the habit of doing base things, when they entered the warm Christmas zone seemed like new men, as if a new spirit possessed them. And the Oriental said it would be a good thing if all the charm of the Christmas spirit, could be made to project itself into the New Year.
This is really the problem to be solved. Christmas ought not to be one day only in the year—it should be all the days through the year. We may as well confess that the solution has not yet been realized. Almost immediately after Christmas, we fall back into a selfish way of living which is far below the high tide to which we rose at Christmas. There is a picture which shows the scene of our Lord’s crucifixion in the afternoon of that terrible day. The crowd is gone, the crosses are empty, and all is silent. In the background is seen a donkey nibbling at a piece of withered palm branch. This was all that was left of the joy and enthusiasm of Psalm Sunday.
Is it not much the same with the beautiful life of Christmas? Five days afterward, will not the world have gone back to its old coldness, selfishness, and hardness? Will not the newspapers have resumed the story of wrong, injustice, greed, and crime, just as if there had been no Christmas, with its one day’s peace and good will? Shall we not have again about us, within a few days, the old competition, wrangling, strife and bitterness among men? The sweet flowers of Christmas will soon be found trampled in the dust by the same feet which, this Christmas, are standing by the cradle of the Christ-child.
How can we keep the Christmas spirit with us after the day has passed on the calendar? We cannot legislate a continuation of Christmas good will. We cannot extend it by passing resolutions. We cannot hold it in the world’s life by lecturing and exhorting on the subject. Yet there ought to be some way of making Christmas last more than one day. It is too beautiful to be allowed to fade out after only one brief day’s stay in the world. What can we do to extend it? We can begin by keeping the beautiful vision in our own life.
There is a story of a young woman who had been with an outing party all day. In the morning, as she left her home, almost unconsciously she had slipped a branch of sweetbrier into her dress. She altogether forgot that it was there. All day, wherever she went with her friends, she and others smelled the spicy fragrance—but none knew whence it came. Yet that night, when she went to her room there was the handful of sweetbrier tucked away in her dress, where she had put it in the morning, and where, unconsciously, she had carried it all day.
The secret was revealed. It is when we have the sweetness in our own life, that we begin to be a sweetener of other lives. We cannot depend upon others for our Christ-likeness, but if we have it in our own heart we will impart it to those about us. We cannot find sweetness on every path that our feet must press. Sometimes we must be among uncongenial people, people whose lives are not loving, with whom it is not easy to live cordially in close relations. The only way to be sure of making all our course in life a path of sweetness is to have the fragrance in ourselves. Then on bleakest roads, where not a flower blooms, we still shall walk in perfumed air—the perfume being in our hearts. It is our own heart which makes our world. We find everywhere what we take with us. If our lives are gentle, patient, loving—we find gentleness, patience, lovingness everywhere. But if our hearts are bitter, jealous, suspicious—we find bitterness, jealousy, suspicion, on every path.
Shall we not strive to make Christmas a continual festival, and not merely the festival of one day? This does not mean a constant celebration of the outer life of Christmas—but a continuance of its spirit.
Henry Van Dyke puts it thus: “Are you willing to stoop down to consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in mind—the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.”
And when we are doing these things every day, Christmas will have fulfilled its mission.1