CHRISTMAS AND HUMAN NATURE
But, again, when we consider human nature, why would we be surprised at this crass manipulation of our deepest fears, needs, and yearnings. I am referring here to our fear of darkness and what it constellates within us, foremost of which is the archetypal yearning for light. Watching the darkness gather around us on this shortest day of the year, sensing the chill of the winter solstice, I marvel once more at the profound relationship between the holiday "season" and the season of our winter solstice here in the northern hemisphere.
Which brings me to this observation. It is the nature of human beings to fear darkness, to seek light, to study our relationship to the sun, moon, and stars, as well as to struggle with the many facets of our finitude. These include anxiety around the uncertainties of life and death, a great grief over the loss of those dear to us, a tragic sense of guilt in the knowledge of how we have hurt and betrayed others, a competitiveness for resources, the fear and distrust of strangers, as well as an aggression that can become barbaric.
All of these aspects of human nature shade toward the somber, grave side of our existence. But, as you are already thinking, there is of course another side that affirms life in its darkness even before the light appears. These qualities of life include an innate sense of wonder, empathy, a capacity to love, to make friends, to give and receive gifts, to forgive, to sing, dance and make merry even in the darkest times, to seek and follow a moral code, to strive for justice while also granting mercy, to express our affirmation of life in great works of art, literature, music, architecture, scientific endeavors, health and education, kindness toward all animals and the earth, as well as a desire to extend our human family into the future and out into the cosmos with an intuitive sense that there is more awaiting us than meets the eye.
This also is human nature -- the buoyant side marked with resilience and lightness of spirit. These qualities as well as those listed previously describe the mountains and valleys of our basic being as humans. Like the seasons of our existence on the planet earth we call home, these qualities move between light and darkness, warmth and chill, verdancy and decay, life and death.
And it is quite likely that the time of our winter solstice is the time historically and existentially that we ponder these qualities with ultimate concern: Will we make it through this long night, and will we ever again experience new life?
The ultimate concern evoked by these qualities, traits, and questions define us as human beings. This ultimate concern arises inevitably in each of us, and because of that we add this most important fact to the description of human nature: Human beings are by nature religious.
It is this religious attitude, not just a dogma or creed, that ushers in our Christmas celebrations. In the spirit of that religious attitude, Jerry Herman, the remarkable musician and lyricist, created his song, "We Need a Little Christmas."
Haul out the holly,
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again;
fill up the stockings,
I may be rushing things but deck the halls again now.
For we need a little Christmas,
Right this very minute,
Candles in the window,
Carols at the spinet,
Yes, we need a little Christmas,
Right this very minute,
It hasn't snowed a single flurry,
But Santa, dear, we're in a hurry.
So climb down the chimney,
Turn on the b rightest of lights I've ever seen.
Slice up the fruitcake;
It's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.
For I've grown a little leaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older.
And I need a little angel,
Sitting on my shoulder.
I need a little Christmas now!
For we need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing,
Ringing through the rafter.
And we need a little snappy
"Happy ever after."
We need a little Christmas now!
Jerry Herman wrote this song for the Broadway production of "Mame" in 1966, starring Angela Lansbury. The Christmas song comes unexpectedly in the story line when the bohemian, care-free Mame loses her fortune in the Wall Street crash of 1929, leaving her destitute in her own psychological winter solstice with the additional surprise of having to provide for her young nephew, Patrick, because of the news that her brother has died.
So what does Mame do? She sings and dances her way through the darkness in the best spirit of Christmas, revealing a most-unexpected Christ figure through her unconditional love for Patrick, her loyalty to her old staff, and her unfading affirmation of life. And along the way she prompts others to celebrate her own infectious joy to the world!
Mame's celebration of Christmas is also part of our human nature. Granted, it can be exploited by the call of the hucksters in our market places. That is true. But it is also true that the human spirit winks at these diversions, and at the end of the day looks toward the stars with wonder, hope, joy, compassion for others and a deep longing for peace.