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The Christmas spirit

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During the four weeks before Christmas we celebrate Advent, the time of preparation for the coming of Christ. While the Advent season in the Church is a quiet period of prayer and reflection, in the secular world the month before Christmas is a busy, noisy time. Nonstop advertising encourages us to buy, buy, buy and not just for others. There is a subtle message that we can also buy for ourselves. Shops sprout Christmas decorations right after they remove those celebrating Halloween. Radio stations play nonstop Christmas music. Every TV series has a special Christmas episode and cable television runs back-to-back Christmas themed movies. While the Christmas music is a combination of secular tunes and classic Christmas carols, the made for TV movies almost never mention the reason for the season. However, this does not mean that they are ignoring the spirit of Christmas.

While the commercial sponsors push conspicuous consumption and encourage viewers to believe that the Christmas season is about finding the right gifts at the best price for every one on your list, the Christmas-themed movies they sponsor have a very different theme. According to these movies the true spirit of Christmas is not bound up with material acquisition. Presents are secondary. The protagonists aren't asking for more stuff. Indeed many of the leading characters are rich and have all the stuff they could desire, and yet their lives are empty. They are looking for something more and they learn through a series of mishaps and adventures that if they only believe in the Christmas spirit they will find the happiness, love, and fulfillment they have been seeking.

In these movies Christmas is a magical time when broken hearts are healed. People find true love. Families are reunited. The selfish learn generosity. Children who have lost a parent and asked Santa for a new mommy or daddy, have their wish granted. People who took the wrong road are magically allowed to go back in time and fix their mistakes.

Characters with magical powers, St. Nicholas himself or his family members, elves, and guardian angels guide them on their way, encouraging the lonely, the wounded, and the materialistic to believe in the spirit of Christmas. Often inspired by the Christmas spirit the hero or heroine gives up material rewards, corporate success, or an unsatisfying high- powered career for a more simple way of life. These movies all have a happy ending. The unbeliever finally is overcome by the Christmas spirit and finds true love and a 'real' family. The lights twinkle, the snow falls and the viewer is assured that obstacles will be overcome and an engagement ring and traditional wedding will follow. And all of this magic comes together at midnight on 24th of December.

According to the made-for-TV movies the Christmas spirit is all about believing that only true love can satisfy the deepest longing of the human heart and although they never mention the birth of Christ in their own way they do understand what Christmas is really suppose to be about. It is as though as much as the secular world wants to downplay the reality of the birth of the Savior of the world, they cannot ignore his message. What happened on Christmas really did change the world. Because Jesus was born, sins can be forgiven and people can make a new start, become a new creation, and find a family.

Behind all the made-for-TV hopelessly romantic Christmas movies lies a real truth; Christmas is the time we celebrate the coming into the world of the only thing that will truly satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. The world wants true love. The world needs Christmas. Rather than decry the commercialism and secularism, we should recognize that need and intensify our work of evangelization. We may not have magical powers but we have the power to bring the spirit of Christmas to the lonely and wounded.

Dale O'Leary is a freelance writer and author of "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality" and "One Man, One Woman."

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