If one thing can be said to mark the outward manifestation of the Christmas season, it would have to be the giving of gifts.
Parties, music, decorations and religious services abound, but overall, the giving of gifts in all its many forms is the unique activity.
This is worthy of deep consideration.
The offering of a gift is a purely human thing. Other forms of life may share.
They may provide, but as far as I know, the act of unselfishly giving something to another being without qualification is uniquely human. In this simple act we separate ourselves from all other forms of life.
Indeed, we elevate humanity to claim a rightful place atop the pyramid of all life.
This trait separates us and identifies us as creatures with a remarkable ability -- that of simultaneously existing on a physical and spiritual plane. (Some would say psychological. I kind of like spiritual.)
Mythology, legend, folklore, and religion contain myriad occurrences of gift giving.
I think it is fair to say that the instance of "Wise Men" presenting gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh may be among the best known.
I have even heard it said that this is the origin of gift giving at Christmas, and that's a lovely thought, but I think the general idea probably predates history.
Our journey to maturity includes many occasions of hurt and misunderstanding. We learn quickly and well to cover ourselves with a protective veneer. No one wants to appear weak for fear of exposing vulnerability.
Somewhere deep within the psyche of us humans however, is a desire to bring forward our best self.
This involves ignoring vulnerability, and expressing positive feelings without fear. Giving a genuine gift is like that. It is a glimpse into the unprotected heart of the giver. It asks nothing, expects nothing. It only wishes to express an honest thought or feeling, and it accepts the momentary insecurity as a small price to pay.
We are not talking here about "sacrifice" or "reward" or "obligation."
Each of these may involve a gift of some kind, but each is incomplete on its own. In each case, a response, an expectation or perhaps merely an action by another individual or entity triggers the gift.
No, a true gift is purely spontaneous and totally unselfish.
It is no gift if I expect special treatment in return; no gift if I give it as a reward for mandated actions; not really a gift if it is an obligation. In fact, if it calls attention to itself above the intent of the giver, this dilutes the effect of the gift.
A true gift has one aim: To express appreciation. It is an acknowledgement of esteem for the recipient. It simply says, "You are important to my life, and I am thankful for that."
No deep philosophical exegesis -- no bells and whistles, just an honest, if profound, expression of something the Greeks called "Agape."
A remarkable thing occurs when a true gift is given. The giver receives a gift of their own. It isn't planned that way, of course. If it was, it would be contrary to the spirit of the gift.
Something happens, though. In the process of being truly unselfish and seeking an adequate expression of meaning, one must suspend all acrimony and negativity and admit only positive and inspirational thoughts to consciousness.
The brain and the Spirit cannot accommodate two separate, disparate inclinations at a time.
When positive, wholesome images flood the psyche, they push aside fear, anger, anxiety, and many other negative aggressors.
At least temporarily, one feels the clean, open, fresh state of mind that most likely was intended from the beginning. It is a birthright, too long ago and too cheaply surrendered.
Today's world is marked by extreme negativity.
The media is filled with it. Our daily lives encounter it far too often.
We accept it far too willingly. We allow it to define Life, as if there was no alternative.
Are there any wholesome, positive images in your belief system this year? Can you honestly go somewhere quiet and alone and itemize a few things, perhaps individuals, you are truly thankful for? Can you allow those thoughts to stay for a while without running for cover?
You don't need a season to give a gift, but now is a perfect time. If nothing else, find a reason to give one to yourself.