Looking for the Christmas Spirit

To get in the holiday mood, look in some familiar and new places

BY Christine R. Gonzalez

 Camellias color the winter landscape in gardens around Wilmington, like the New Hanover County Arboretum. WBM File Photo
Camellias color the winter landscape in gardens around Wilmington, like the New Hanover County Arboretum. WBM File Photo

December 25th approaches supernaturally fast each year, or so it seems. One can make it through the annual checklist — buying gifts, decorating the house, preparing family recipes, attending festive parties — and still utter the phrase, “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas.” 

Peace, love and joy are the feelings that should be abundant during the holiday season. But we live in a troubled world, so how does anyone find those emotions amid all the problems and distractions of our times?

Choosing to seek peace, love and joy is the first step. Discovering them will be different for everyone, but listening to seasonal or inspirational music, watching uplifting movies, doing something new, or performing some small act of kindness can all be good places to start.

Listening to holiday music can help bring about the Christmas spirit. After all, it is the “hap-happiest season of all.”

Christmas can transport us back in time. You may remember singing “Jingle Bells” with your grandmother while she rattled sleigh bells, and now you’re the grandma singing it with your grandchild. Instead of giving in to the sadness of missing loved ones, remember the joy they planted in your life and pass it along. The gift of time and attention far outweigh any package under a tree.

There is no shortage of Christmas carols or cheerful tunes to lighten the heart. Start with songs pointing to the origin of the holiday, an observance of the birth of Jesus. 

“Away in a Manger” paints a peaceful and humble beginning. “Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay close by me forever.” Is that not a peaceful request? And for believers, one that is fulfilled.

 “Mary Did You Know” is a more modern song that asks the teenage mother of Jesus, “Did you know when you kiss your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God?” That paints a powerful but peaceful image of what a young mother may have felt in caring for her newborn gift.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, there are plenty of Christmas songs to bring in good cheer. If you’re invited to a friend’s home, ring the doorbell and serenade them with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Demand that figgy pudding, or personalize the lyrics — “We all want some pecan pie and we won’t go ’til we get some.” It will be a fun way to kick off the evening.

The Raleigh Ringers concert at Thalian Hall on December 4 will be just one opportunity to experience live holiday music in Wilmington. Photo by Mark Manring

A newer song by Francesca Battistelli paints a picture of the many things “Christmas Is,” like mom burning the turkey, paper and ribbon scattered all over the floor, and dropping money in a bucket for those in need. It’s upbeat and covers a lot of scenarios many of us have lived.

In Acts 20:35, Jesus is quoted as having said a phrase that many a parent has uttered to a child at some time or other: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

If you want to help a child reap those blessings, help them participate in gift giving. For example, make teachers goodie bags with hand sanitizer, a candy cane, hot chocolate packets, etc. Let them go shopping with you to pick out the gifts.

Gift giving doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be thought-filled. It should be a gift of love.

Many elderly people feel forgotten, invisible, and unloved. A handmade card, delivered by a child, can be one of the happiest moments of their day. Or fill a stocking with necessary items and a few fun things and write an elderly neighbor’s name on it. We once heard an octogenarian say, “I’ve never had a stocking with my name on it before.” That was a moment that made the family feel good, and cost very little.

Another way to teach giving is to ask a child to pick out canned and boxed goods to donate to a homeless shelter or other nonprofit that feeds hungry people. If your budget is limited, tell them you can only spend a set amount, and help them figure out how that dollar will go the furthest. It might be wise to call a shelter first and ask what it needs.

Another way to get into the holiday spirit is to watch a few classic holiday movies or TV shows.

Like music, movies can uplift a heart and evoke some of those Christmas feelings, peace, love or joy. They can also just be family-friendly fun.

Make a plan, leave the phones and other distractions in another room, have some festive snacks, and enjoy diving into a classic and sharing the tears or laughter with someone you love.

Some classic family must-sees include White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Our family must-see is The Muppet Christmas Carol starring Michael Caine, where the Ghost of Christmas Present reminds us, “wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

Trying new things is another way to bond with family and add fun to holiday traditions. Plan a picnic to the beach to look at the stars, go to a live nativity at a church, visit some of the tourist attractions that you might have missed, like touring the Battleship North Carolina or the Railroad Museum, which has a phenomenal miniature railway set and railroad-themed gifts.

Get outside with a visit to the New Hanover County Arboretum where the camellias should be in full bloom, the koi should be active in the pond, and the enhanced children’s garden may be complete. 

A new thing might also be a day of service for a nonprofit. Volunteers often must be adults, but some organizations will use teens accompanied by an adult. Groups such as Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM) can use volunteers for one day or many. Carpentry experience is not required, but always helpful.

Many nonprofits have a wish list feature on their websites, allowing donors to fund something needed. 

Ultimately, finding the Christmas spirit is up to each of us. There’s no guarantee, but if you go looking for peace, love and joy, you might just “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

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