Christmas – Does the magic end at midnight? And when does it begin?

by DR. ROBIN MCFEE December 24, 2015

Christmas tea is brewing, Christmas music is playing, my Christmas shirt lights are twinkling, as is my Christmas tree, and I'm manically sorting visions of sugarplums and ideas about this article, all of which are dancing in my head.

It's probably not a good sign when you come up with lots of titles for the same article. While titles can inform the reader and set the groundwork for an article, a dozen ways to start an article was not exactly an embarrassment of riches. Approaching the 11th hour I was beginning to feel like Santa that foggy night Rudolph went off to rumble with a Bumble. My Christmas article is usually a favorite, and among the easiest for me to write. This year was a major exception. I wasn't sure why. Checks were written to charities, Santa suit clean and ready for annual volunteering, the tree was up, the house was illuminated in Snoopy doghouse fashion with enough lights to guide commercial airliners towards the airport, my friends had just left after enjoying the decorations and hot chocolate, and my Christmas cheer was pretty amped up. This should be easy.

Was it the challenges we all face creeping in? Was it the insanity of a world seemingly going madder and towards the point of no return quicker than at any other moment in my lifetime - an opinion not uncommon with several friends?  Was it the rapidity of the Season and the dizzying array of things we all do preparing for Christmas? As if a 2000 year event needs preparation, if we truly ‘get' the Reason for the Season.

Maybe you, too, are feeling like Christmas has gone too fast this year, and yet is not even here?

I know the meaning of Christmas. The Gospel Luke does a great job telling the Nativity story.  You do, too, right? Been there, done that. Where's Linus when I need him? Even his blanket was looking good.

So off I went for a dose of Christmas annual tradition actually, listening to Gerald Dickens performing his Great Great Grandfather's most powerful work - A Christmas Carol.  Speaking of powerful - Gerald does his ancestor proud. It is a powerful performance. I highly recommend catching his one man show; and bring tissues!

The setting is ideal for getting into the spirit. One of the last remaining US based Christmas decoration and collectible companies - Vaillancourt - invites Dickens to perform in a mill they converted into a Christmas wonderland - part Dickens' England, and part Santa Land!

Early on I got my first "aha" moment when Gerald is portraying Marley's Ghost. Recall Marley is Scrooges dead partner, and trying to warn Scrooge of a fate worse than the haunted specter's current and endless predicament. Marley is condemned to wander aimlessly in a spiritual world, having forfeited any chance of helping people, but cursed to see suffering he could have prevented.  And in the process Marley must drag a heavy chain of safes and money boxes and the like throughout eternity. Marley warns Scrooge (and us?) that he has forged an even longer one being alive 7 years more than old Jacob.

Armed with that inspiration I thought I'd title this article "Christmas - how long is your chain?" The notion being each of us probably is dragging a chain representative of lost opportunities to make someone else's life better or worse, as we wrestle with the decision to accumulate or to share.

If you or I were to be given some paranormal binoculars so we could see if our spirit is encased in chains forged from selfishness, or floating on the wings of generosity, would we be assured or shocked by the revelation? Scrooge squandered so much of his life - whether from fear of poverty, fear of the world,  frank avarice, or force of habit being a successful  acquirer i.e. businessman, we can only surmise why, but not the end result. What about our way of life? Are our fears driving, motivating or informing us? What are our priorities? Would Bob Cratchit, or the little boy attempting to sing "God Rest You Merry Gentleman" to Scrooge, (who responded unseasonably to the urchin, to say the least), or Belle or Fred do any better with us as they did with Ebenezer?

Hmmm, maybe I was on to something.

A pastor at Old Pine Street Church in Philadelphia gave a sermon on generosity and spoke about the book The Paradox of Generosity.  In it, coauthors Smith and Davidson point out that people who focus on giving - whether time, talent, or treasure - tend to live healthier, happier, and more purposeful lives, than those who focus more on acquiring and keeping things.  Looking outward or looking inward.

The Paradox of Generosity underscores a universal concept - in giving, we are receiving. Doubt me? Just ask anyone who regularly volunteers, or mentors or is engaged in philanthropy, and you will hear the joy of someone who is living a fulfilled life.  Given nearly every major religion emphasizes charity as a critical element of the faith, one would think most of us practice it to some degree or another. I suspect Smith and Davidson thought the same way when they embarked upon their multiyear research.

Would it surprise you to learn after these two researchers surveyed 2000 people and further studied a large subset, they discovered that less than 3% give 10% or more of their income - what is traditionally referred to as tithing? About 40% gave less than 2% of their income. But an additional 40% reported that they gave around 0% to charitable enterprises. I did a double take/double check when I read their data. And it isn't just mere mortal money that is included in generosity. Nevertheless, one has to wonder then, how long is the chain for those who give so little of themselves? What opportunities to help are such folks missing? Is their fate that of Marley, or can a Scrooge-like reformation fill their hearts?

To be sure we can give of ourselves in ways other than material, but typically the Widow's Mite story is true, and where effort is shared, money follows. It is unfathomable that one could go through life not giving, not sharing, and not being charitable. We can question whether Smith/Davidson data can be generalized to the wider population. But the data in terms of generosity as an Rx for a happier life cannot be overlooked. Nor can the dismal percent of folks who misguidedly think the person who acquires the most toys wins in life. Are we then, in effect a nation of Marley's or Scrooges after the Ghosts appeared? For such people, one has to wonder, how long is their chain?

We probably don't need a book to tell us what we can observe watching people interact with or pass by the Salvation Army bell ringer or homeless person. Some folks are forging a long chain, while others are adding feathers to their spiritual wings. Which one applies to you or me? How long is our chain?

We all concede generosity is clearly a critical element of Christmas. Charities count on the Season inspiring people to help others, even folks who normally are parsimonious or oblivious to the value of generosity. But Christmas is more than worrying out our celestial report card, and fate of our spirit.

As Dickens continued I thought about calling the article "Christmas - are you a Fezziwig?"  In reference to Scrooges former employers who treated their employees with respect, and generosity, making their daily lives more tolerable and less burdensome. 

As a consultant I interact with all manner and means of enterprises and managers. Some folks seem to take delight at pouncing on their subordinates, while others take great pride in uplifting those under their command.  We all have a boss, and at some time or other have filled that role. Are you a Fezziwig, making your team members lives better or Scrooge/Marley making it worse for your leadership?

Life is made to be celebrated, and the Fezziwigs seemed to understand that - at the Holidays and beyond them. I would wager that the Fezziwigs did not end their Christmas cheer on the dawning of December 26th.

Even so, Christmas is more than a merry countenance, important though that is. I was still coming up with more titles than content.

Driving back from Newport, I came upon a quaint antique book seller, and went to their Christmas book section, whereupon I spotted several early volumes of Dickens, and a lovely little story called Miracle on 34th Street. If anyone can help me write this article, it will be Santa!

"Christmas isn't just a day; it is a frame of mind"

Kris Kringle from Miracle on 34 th Street

Beyond being a great sound bite, or in this case, an admonition to a character in the book who didn't buy into Christmas, one has to step back and consider what was Old Kris telling us? Was he merely tying up in more manageable format the lessons of Marley, and Fezziwig and the Paradox of Generosity for us? Dickens took great pains to emphasize the Spirit of the Season, and like others after him, refer to Christmas as a Season, not just a day. Consider the powerful ending of A Christmas Carol where Scrooge promises "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year...." At the very end it was said of Scrooge he indeed did!  Was Kris saving us some reading by that quick sentence?

Kris Kringle is reminding us that while Christmas day is when we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, there is much more to God's gift to us than a birthday party for His son. Maybe Christmas is a journey and destination all in one?

Consider a lady who works at one of my clients. From about Halloween until a few days before Christmas, she does raffles, inspires others to make baskets to raffle off, as a means of raising money for homeless families. She encourages folks to adopt needy kids as a Secret Santa, and collects usable items for a local shelter. Year in and year out she does this. Year in and year out she exudes enthusiasm for the project, and there is a palpable sense of joy in knowing she has lessened the suffering of her fellow travelers to the grave. Another woman takes it upon herself to do similar activities in the spring to raise money for a citywide fundraiser for the homeless that culminates with a 5 k walk. Are they celebrating Christmas as a frame of mind or day in December? Could we use our time, talent, or treasure to do the same?

Christmas and charity have become inextricably linked. It is a natural alliance. Christ is God's gift of generosity to us, and if we are followers of the last 2 commandments - love God, love one another - then there cannot be a better way to celebrate Jesus' birth than by following in the tradition of generosity.

The two ladies and their merry band of assistants gave me another title Christmas - Does the magic end at midnight?

Scrooge the reclaimed might have answered "yes" ....What was Scrooge most concerned about when he woke up from his last ghost encounter? Consider the first question he asked the young boy in the street - "what day is it?" Why? Scrooge associated Christmas magic with Christmas day, and wanted to make Christmas day special for those closest to him, through his newfound generosity. And to his great relief it was Christmas - he hadn't missed it. Have we?

But even if we have, it is ok to celebrate the spirit of Christmas on December 26th or 28th or March 25th or July 17th. The hungry person we feed, the shut in we visit, the teen we mentor won't care what day you open your heart, or when you share the Christmas magic.

And Scrooge the reclaimed might have also answered "No" because Christmas he realized must be year long, and year round in our hearts and actions.

If you based your response on the outward trappings of the Season, inspirational, fun, and cheery though they are - the commercial, decorative, and physical representation of Christmas - it would be hard to conclude otherwise. Just listening to the radio stations on December 26th, you would answer "yes" the magic ends at midnight, and the Christmas Season is ready for mothballs, notwithstanding from November to December 25th nearly every city has at least one station playing Christmas Carols, inspiring a lightness of spirit, and feeling of goodwill in a way only music can. But at the stroke of midnight when the 25th welcomes the 26th, it is as if the Ghosts of Secular Present arrive, undoing the musical expressions of the Holidays. Speak about a buzz kill. Good bye Drummer Boy and Silent Night, and hello "with a single cartridge someone shot that little partridge," and "wreck the malls."

But if you base your response on the true meaning of Christmas, then a treeless community, or carol-less airways or lightless neighborhoods cannot end a magic that we all are capable of feeling, and sharing. Christmas magic is us ....what we do with and for each other.

That is Dickens' and Santa's message. Whether through A Christmas Carol  full of ghosts warning us how long our chain is, or reminding us to Fezziwig ourselves and our neighbor s or employees, or showcasing Scrooge promising the Angel of Death or Phantom of Christmas Future he will endeavor to keep the meaning of Christmas in his heart yearlong, or recognizing it is a frame of mind, not a discrete 24 hour or even 6 week period that ends on December 26th .  Dickens and Santa are reminding us how powerfully beneficial it is for us to express Christmas through kindness, generosity, patience, integrity, good cheer and helping others. Dickens and Santa knew you didn't ‘keep Christmas to yourself' you shared it.  

Christmas - How long is your chain?

Some credit Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol´with changing how Great Britain, and ultimately the United States looked at, treated, even felt about Christmas, and the social compact inherent in this special day of goodwill towards mankind. From a personal perspective, this special story of redemption has always had a transformative effect upon me, my family, and closest friends. And perhaps, you, like me, find the need to return to that novel for some inspiration.

Which leads me to the last title for this article....You can never miss Christmas if you keep it year round.

Don't believe me? Ask Old Ebenezer.

And there is so much work for all of us to do in keeping with the Spirit of the Season - homeless veterans, shut ins, sick children, rare disease research, scholarships for folks trying to better themselves through education, mentoring adolescents - the most vulnerable of age groups in the US today, hungry and struggling school kids, overburdened neighbors, community centers, the list of opportunities to make a difference is nearly endless.

Christmas - Does the magic end at midnight? And when does it begin?  The magic is now, and now is any time you choose to share the meaning of Christmas - love, compassion, charity, using whatever means you have - a kind word to someone who needs it, giving of your time, your talent, and your treasure. 

Wishing you a magical Christmas, and, hoping you also become the magic of Christmas.

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Dr. Robin McFee, MPH, FACPM, FAACT, is a physician, and clinical toxicologist. As medical director of Threat Science - and nationally recognized expert in WMD preparedness, she consults with government agencies, corporations and the media. Dr. McFee is the former director of the Center for Bioterrorism Preparedness (CB PREP) and bioweapons - WMD adviser to the Domestic Security Task Force, the former chair of the Global Terrorism Council of ASIS International, and a member of the US Counterterrorism Advisory Team. She has coauthored two books: Toxico-Terrorism by McGraw Hill and The Handbook of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Agents, published by Informa/CRC Press    


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