The biggest, most celebrated holiday in the U.S. is Christmas. It commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, who, according to Christian churches, was both God and man. The coming of Christ marked a change in humanity and the way people think of themselves that resulted in today’s concepts of democracy and freedom.
I have always suspected that we humans invented Christmas and New Year’s to distract us from the bleak prospect of months of cold weather and short days. And it turns out that winter festivals happen all around the globe, even in non-Christian countries. I’m not alone in hating cold, dark times.
But Americans have taken Christmas far beyond the observing of Christ’s birthday. It, along with New Year’s, has become an annual feast of eating, drinking, gift giving, and partying far outstripping any other holiday in the year.
As regular readers of the blog know all too well, music is one of the most important elements of my life. And some of the greatest music ever written celebrates Christmas. In addition to the hymns and carols we all know so well, two of the greatest pieces ever written honor Christmas. One is Messiah (HWV 56), an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Händel, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and from the Coverdale Psalter, the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. The other is The Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) by Johann Sebastian Bach, intended for performance in church during the Christmas season. Recordings of both oratorios stay on my CD player all through the season. I listen to them as often as I can.
The odd thing for me about Christmas is the generosity that the holiday inspires in me. Prompted by the Christmas spirit, I am far more willing to share my plenitude with others, especially those less fortunate, at this time of year. And I’m not alone. As the press and media make clear, Americans are more generous at Christmas that during any other season.
So let’s hear it for Christmas, a time when sharing becomes commonplace. May it always be so.