Sparks column: Grinch to gratitude!
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
Merry Christmas, y’all!
Okay, yeah, it’s the middle of the summer, and for many of us, it’s brutally hot. But as Kris Kringle said in “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a frame of mind.” In fact, “Christmas in July” is actually a thing. We have an annual celebration at our church (like many other communities of faith) to remind ourselves that we can access Christmas cheer any time of the year.
Here’s a little secret few people realize: Happiness is not a once-a-year event. Christmas is not just a 24-hour holiday. We can go from Grinch to gratitude anytime! It’s simply a matter of changing our perspective and choosing joy.
Sadly, we tend to limit Christmas to the bleak mid-winter - to the one day of Santa, packages, trees, and fruitcakes. Then, like good Puritan soldiers, we store our yuletide joy in the attic on Dec. 26 and get back to “real” life. How sad, given that the Christmas spirit is something we desperately need all year long.
For 364 days a year, we are bombarded by stress, commitments and demands. We face daily worries about our kids, our aging parents, our money and our future. Every morning we wake up to news of tragedy, violence, the inhumanity of the world and the ever-present COVID-19.
Yet on one day of the year - Christmas - we are reminded that as a people, we also carry a spark of hope and joy. That gift is bestowed at birth but often forgotten as life attempts to beat it out of us. Christmas drops a hint of hope in our hearts - a hint that stays with us, like the balsam tree needles we find six months later behind the couch.
Forgetting the gifts of Christmas can be a dangerous thing. Remember the Grinch who hated Christmas because his heart was two sizes too small? Or Ebenezer Scrooge, who lost the ability to feel happiness because he opted for work and money over love and joy? It’s easy to make that mistake - to close off our hearts, to opt for “humbug” over happiness - but here’s the good news: it’s never too late to reclaim the gifts of Christmas. Scrooge found them again. The Grinch found them again. And we can, too.
Let me ask you three questions to help you remember:
Do you believe you deserve joy?
If you gave up your Bah Humbug, who would you be?
Have you become comfortable - even stuck - being unhappy? Do you feel that you get more attention, sympathy, or love that way?
Christmas is not just a holiday to celebrate in the dead of winter. It is for any time you feel that life has beaten you down and your belief in miracles is almost gone. It is an antidote for stress, negativity, difficult people, corrosive words, and the feeling that there is never enough time. It reminds us that the world is filled with awe and wonder, that there is great power and healing in silence, that love is most deeply felt when shared, and that we should never - ever - postpone our joy. As the priest Henri Nouwen said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every single day.”
Okay, maybe hanging Christmas decorations and serving eggnog in July sounds a bit strange, but remembering and celebrating the spirit of Christmas in July, April, October or December is not crazy at all. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary! Christmas is a frame of mind. And to honor its gifts and blessings, we must attend to them with gratitude and choose joy all year long.
A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, the Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of three books, including her newest, “Miracle on 31st Street: Christmas Cheer Every Day of the Year - Grinch to Gratitude in 26 Days!” Contact her through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.