Every December 24 — while dad builds the fire, mom preps the salmon loaf, wifey makes the eggnog, and I “test” the brandy — a wail goes up from the Davis house. It’s Elvis Presley, crying: “O why can’t every day be like Christmas? Why can’t that feeling go on endlessly?” And we answer him, no less soulfully: “For if every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world this would be!”
It’s a great song. But, hey, doesn’t the man deserve an answer? Why can’t every day be like Christmas?
Granted, we can’t all spend our days opening presents and eating sugar cookies. It might work for Tom Hanks, but some of us have work to do. And yet, whatever the cynics might say, I don’t think Christmas cheer has that much to do with presents.
That’s a bold claim, I know. But imagine you’re at the mall with your significant other. The two of you are all bundled up in sweaters and heavy coats. You’re sipping your peppermint mocha with whipped cream and sprinkles from a festive Starbucks cup. Just then, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” comes on for the eighth time that day. And your heart leaps. Because, admit it: you love that song. We all do. Sure, we make fun of it. But we also know there’s no Christmas without Mariah.
Now, does this have anything to do with presents? Is that what makes us — the most cynical, selfish, sarcastic generation in history — douse ourselves in kitsch and light a match? The rational part of our brain says, “Ugh, this song is so chintzy. And those high notes could shatter glass.” Then your inner child comes along with a baseball bat and beats the rational part of your brain half to death, shouting: “It’s just nice, okay? Every song doesn’t have to be Van Morrison. You can go back to being a judgmental asshole tomorrow. Today, just let people have fun.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what Christmas is really about. It’s the one time of the year when we agree not to mentally savage each other. We don’t size each other up. We don’t carp and gossip (at least not so much). We lock our fragile, grown-up egos in the basement and let our inner children play nice for a while.
Christmas is the time of year when you don’t snicker at the checkout guy because Walmart makes him wear reindeer antlers, and he doesn’t snicker at you for buying five boxes of Hawaiian Punch candy canes. No, you say, “The antlers suit you,” and smile. He smiles and says, “Thanks. I loved Hawaiian Punch as a kid.” And you say, “Me too. It’s silly, but — it’s Christmas.”
That’s an absurd conversation for two adults to have. And yet it feels perfectly natural, like we’re supposed to be nice to each other. When you cut folks a little slack, you cut yourself a whole lot more. As GK Chesterton said, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.”
Easier said than done, of course. After all, how can I take me lightly? I’m all I’ve got!
Well, that’s the reason for the season. On December 25, in or around the year zero, a baby named Jesus was born in a village called Bethlehem. When he grew up, he became the most influential thinker in the history of the world. In the years since that first Christmas, millions have died for this Jesus. Billions more have lived for him. The thing is, though, he didn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know.
For instance, Jesus said that “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, if you only think about yourself, you’ll be miserable — but the more you think about other people, the happier you’ll be. Why? Because we’re not made to be selfish. It may feel natural, but it isn’t. It would be easy for salmon to float along with the current, but that’s not what they’re made for. They’re made to swim upstream. That’s their job.
We have a job, too, says Jesus. “Love one another, even as I have loved you.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Humans are made to love, and to be loved. That’s the whole point of A Christmas Carol. Like any good libertarian, Scrooge believes in rational self-interest. The thing is, “self-interest” is irrational. An egotist is like a lung that never breathes out because it wants to keep all the air for itself. It doesn’t work.
The good news is that every day can be like Christmas. We can always follow the teachings of Jesus. We can always put others before ourselves. We can always cut folks a little more slack. The bad news is that, once you become a follower of Jesus, you sort of have to treat every day like Christmas. And there aren’t peppermint mochas and Mariah Carey songs to help you along. But that’s why Father Faber said, “A kind man is never self-occupied. He is genial, he is sympathetic, he is brave.” To live every day like it’s Christmas: that takes courage.
If you wanted to give it a whack, here’s what I would recommend. You might have heard once that the twelve days of Christmas (like the song with all the birds) actually starts on Christmas Day. It’s not the twelve days before Christmas, but the twelve days after.
Most people either don’t know this or don’t care. They’ve ditched their tree by New Year’s Eve. Which, in a sense, is kind of sad. But it also gives you the perfect opportunity to try to live every day as if it were Christmas. Because it is Christmas, even if nobody knows it.
Just try it out. See how much you like it. Don’t dive right back into the sneering, the brooding, the whining, the cussing, and the judging. Let yourself rest for a few more days. Cut folks some slack. Smile at strangers; maybe even talk to them. Send letters and cards. Have friends over to eat and drink and sing. Give presents, especially to those who don’t get many: the poor, the old, the sick, and the imprisoned. Remember that the best gift of all is the gift of your time.
Do like St. Paul says: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” It’s a big ask, I know. I can’t manage it most days. But imagine if we all tried. Just tried. What a wonderful world this would be.
Michael Warren Davis is author of The Reactionary Mind. Subscribe to his Substack, “The Common Man.”