Christmastime is a glorious time of year. It's a time of increased hospitality, devotion and love; a time to subdue our own selfish impulses, to renew friendships and create new ones. It's a time for families to renew traditions and begin new ones, for singing praises to the Most High.
The Christmas message transcends the individual, the family, the community, the country in which we live; it approaches the universal, crosses borders and touches all people. The message of the birth of the Savior two millenia ago is a message of love, peace and hope.So if Christmastime is supposed to be a time for happiness and peace, why does it appear that so many people are unhappy and depressed during the holidays?
Is it because merchants have tried to stretch the Christmas-shopping period all the way back to September? Is it because Christmas music and decorations start appearing even before other holidays have run their course? Is it because our expectations are overwhelmed by the reality of everyday living? Or are our appetites - even our appetite to do good - never fully satisfied?
The answers to these questions lie not in our surroundings, but in ourselves. To some, the earlier start for Christmas shopping underscores society's greed. But what does it say about our own feelings? If we enter the holidays looking out for ourselves and are unwilling to help others or do for others, we are no better than the hypocrites in Christ's time who demanded a sign of His divinity. If we will let it, the light of Christ will shine through the tinsel of the marketplace and penetrate even the souls of the unbelieving.
Too often we attribute people's goodness to "just this time of year," when in reality, if we look beneath the surface we find that the charitable know no single season. Good deeds and giving are evident all year long - not just in the months leading up to and immediately following the holidays. They may be magnified by others' attention to what is being done at this time. We can see the good works being performed if we will but take the time.
Christmas holds a special meaning for many because our thoughts turn naturally toward home. If home is a place of happiness and contentment and righteousness, our thoughts reflect those feelings. If home is a place filled with bitterness and contention, our feelings - even the Christmas feelings - will have a hard time penetrating that atmosphere.
Such negative feelings are as infectious as the joyous ones we share and can overwhelm not only ourselves, but also those around us. If we radiate Christ's love, the brightness of His gospel shines to others, and His love radiates to all around us.
If we do good with the expectation of getting something in return - a better Christmas present or more prestige among our peers - we are in error. That is not the message of Christ.
President Spencer W. Kimball commented about such Christmas "exchanges." Reflecting on the Savior's life, President Kimball remarked:
"Never did the Savior give in expectation. I know of no case in his life in which there was an exchange. He was always the giver, seldom the recipient. Never did he give shoes, hose or a vehicle; never did he give perfume, a shirt or a fur wrap. His gifts were of such a nature that the recipient could hardly exchange or return the value. His gifts were rare ones: eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf and legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm and breath to the lifeless. His friends gave him shelter, food and love. He gave them of himself, his love, his service, his life. He gave them and all their fellow mortals resurrection, salvation and eternal life." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 246-247.)
Unselfishness, sacrifice and wonder are all messages of Christmas.
As we grow in love, compassion and service to others, we reflect a Christ-like feeling that can literally turn the darkness to light in people's lives. True Christmas giving - the gift of ourselves - reflects our Savior's love for all of us.
Our greatest gifts to our families and to others are those of everlasting value - our messages of caring and concern, our worship of the Savior and His divine mission on our behalf and our testimonies of the restored Gospel and the knowledge that Christ will come again.
We can share that testimony not just at this special time of year, but all year long. The spirit of Christmas should remind us to radiate Christ's love in all seasons, to give as He gave - and continues to give to each of us. That is a holy gift indeed.