It’s very late on Christmas Eve, and I’m sleepily lying in bed and staring out the window.
I’ve stared out this very same window every Christmas Eve for most of my childhood, excitedly anticipating the following morning with giddy glee.
Like many kids, I firmly believed in Santa Claus, the jolly old elf employer who raids millions of homes and leaves behind brand-name toys and video games.
At some point, I was told the told the earth-shattering truth: that this rather ridiculous-sounding story wasn’t true after all.
But believing in Santa has its personal benefits.
The story of Santa Claus didn’t just spring up one day. Someone must have thought, long ago, that it was a good idea to spread the word of the flying world traveler.
And the result? Kids everywhere try as hard as they can be be good so they don’t lower their present tally come Christmas day.
Moreover, those kids get to sit up and stare out the window on Christmas Eve, vividly imagining what Santa might look like, where he might be, what magic runs his operation. TV shows, movies, books, decorations, even cookies with Santa’s image dominate the media landscape to help fuel the fire.
All that fake magic in turn becomes real for anyone who believes in it. And those who don’t truly believe, but who help continue the legend for their own kids by playing along, are able to experience the magic in a different way.
Belief or not, I find that magic, and the feeling it of wonder and awe it generates, truly beautiful.
Sitting in church tonight for our annual Christmas Eve mass, I found myself thinking similar thoughts.
Our church is huge, historic, and wonderfully decorated for the holidays, with poinsettias and trees and candles everywhere. The music tonight was played by a harpist and violinist, who contributed to an atmosphere of mystery and tradition.
As the priest and his congregation went through the motions of the rituals of mass, and as he read with conviction the gospel in which 42 generations of Christ’s ancestors are listed by name, I felt something strong.
It was what I have to assume leads billions the world over to return to church week after week after week. A sense of the deep, rich history of the Christian tradition, coupled with the awe of a universe much more massive than we can possibly comprehend.
I was impressed and humbled, and reflected deeply on my life, my decisions, my reason for being.
I had what some might call a religious experience. I am not a regular church-goer, nor a religious person. I am not a firm believer in anything greater than the universe itself.
But I do not deny the existence of that higher power, either. I don’t pretend to know where the universe came from, and I do not discount the theory that a deity might exist who orchestrated its creation on some level.
But all these things aren’t important to me. What is important is the utter peace and joy I was able to be a part of this Christmas Eve.
The “reason for the season” has never been more clear.