Being a Word of Much Needed Advice
From "A Little Book for Christmas", 1917, by Cyrus Townsend Brady
Christmas is the birthday of our Lord, upon which we celebrate God's ineffable gift of Himself to His children. No human soul has ever been able to realize the full significance of that gift, no heart has ever been glad enough to contain the joy of it, and no mind has ever been wise enough to express it. Nevertheless we powerfully appreciate the blessing and would fain convey it fitly. Therefore to commemorate that great gift the custom of exchanging tokens of love and remembrance has grown until it has become well nigh universal. This is a day in which we ourselves crave, as never at any other time, happiness and peace for those we love and that ought to include everybody, for with the angelic message in our ears it should be impossible to hate any one on Christmas day however we may feel before or after.
But despite the best of wills almost inevitably Christmas in many instances has created a burdensome demand. Perhaps by the method of exclusion we shall find out what Christmas should be. It is not a time for extravagance, for ostentation, for vulgar display, it is possible to purchase pleasure for someone else at too high a price to ourselves. To paraphrase Polonius, "Costly thy gift as thy purse can buy, rich but not expressed in fancy, for the gift oft proclaims the man." In making presents observe three principal facts; the length of your purse, the character of your friend, and the universal rule of good taste. Do not plunge into extravagance from which you will scarcely recover except in months of nervous strain and desperate financial struggle. On the other hand do not be mean and niggardly in your gifts. Oh, not that; avoid selfishness at Christmas, if at no other time. Rather no gift at all than a grudging one. Let your offerings represent yourselves and your affections. Indeed if they do not represent you, they are not gifts at all. "The gift without the giver is bare."
And above all banish from your mind the principle of reciprocity. The lex talionis has no place in Christmas giving. Do not think or feel that you must give to someone because someone gave to you. There is no barter about it. You give because you love and without a thought of return. Credit others with the same feeling and be governed thereby. I know one upon whose Christmas list there are over one hundred and fifty people, rich and poor, high and low, able and not able. That man would be dismayed beyond measure if everyone of those people felt obliged to make a return for the Christmas remembrances he so gladly sends them.
In giving remember after all the cardinal principle of the day. Let your gift be an expression of your kindly remembrance, your gentle consideration, your joyful spirit, your spontaneous gratitude, your abiding desire for peace and goodwill toward men. Hunt up somebody who needs and who without you may lack and suffer heart hunger, loneliness, and disappointment.
Nor is Christmas a time for gluttonous eating and drinking. To gorge one's self with quantities of rich and indigestible food is not the noblest method of commemorating the day. The rules and laws of digestion are not abrogated upon the Holy day. These are material cautions, the day has a spiritual significance of which material manifestations are, or ought to be, outward and visible expressions only.
Christmas is one of the great days of obligation in the Church year, then as at Easter if at no other time, Christians should gather around the table of the Lord, kneeling before God's altar in the ministering of that Holy Communion which unites them with the past, the present, and the future—the communion of the saints of God's Holy Church with His Beloved Son. Then and thus in body, soul, and spirit we do truly participate in the privilege and blessing of the Incarnation, then and there we receive that strength which enables everyone of us to become factors in the great extension of that marvellous occurrence throughout the ages and throughout the world.
Let us therefore on this Holy Natal Day, from which the whole world dates its time, begin on our knees before that altar which is at once manger, cross, throne. Let us join thereafter in holy cheer of praise and prayer and exhortation and Christmas carol, and then let us go forth with a Christmas spirit in our hearts resolved to communicate it to the children of men, and not merely for the day but for the future. To make the right use of these our privileges, this it is to save the world.
In this spirit, therefore, so far as poor, fallible human nature permits him to realize it and exhibit it, the author wishes all his readers which at present comprise his only flock—
A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR.