Christmas 2009 was almost the Christmas that wasn't. December is always hectic at work, with the usual year-end duties like the annual off-site planning meeting, performance reviews, compensation committee, etc., Plus we had a few proposals to get out, board and bank meetings to attend, and personnel matters to resolve.
All this non-secular noise gets in the way of the Christmas spirit and saps my energy for much more than eating, sleeping and going to work.
Nevertheless, I have taken a few days off, gone for some walks in the woods, and I am now finding time for some Christmas thoughts (by the way, I love that "never the less" has been collapsed into one word).
I have seen a "friend" or two on Facebook join groups like "Keep Christ in Christmas" and read the predictable op-eds on the Holidays (my favorite was an absolute hissy-fit by Garrison Keillor in the Star Trib last Sunday), but despite this (or because of it), I find I am more tolerant of alternative takes on The Holiday this year.
We have taken in a few Quaker meetings at the Minneapolis Society of Friends meeting house recently, and it's been interesting. Friends believe that God speaks to them directly and individually, and they are not into spoken prayer and responsorials, which I am more familiar with. However, Friends meetings are not all silence; several times per meeting someone will get up and share a thought or insight. Sometimes I find I agree with what was said, other times I admit to wondering what the heck they are tuned into. But regardless of my reaction, I have come to realize that they felt moved to make a statement, and it was/is important to them, and therefore it's worthy of considering. After all, their insight might end up being an epiphany for me, potentially. It would be shame to miss an epiphany because I dismissed the words or speaker due to impatience or bias.
I have come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of Christmas presents - the common Christmas present is the material stuff that people give you at Christmas time; the second, more personal present is what you discover about yourself, based on the experiences of the past year.
I'll see what my common Christmas presents are tomorrow night, but I have concluded that my second, personal Christmas gift this year is greater appreciation for the importance of tolerance. There has been plenty of things I didn't like about this year and plenty of things I didn't agree with, but I can see that we all need a little adversity to grow, much like a knife needs a hard sharpening stone to regain its edge, and we need to be tolerant of other opinions and difficult situations to benefit from these learning opportunities.
On that note, I wish each and every one of you unconditional health, happiness, security and general well-being this Holiday season, whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Solstice, or Festivus!