Sometime soon, chances are someone will ask you if you’re in the Christmas spirit. The first I felt it this year was a couple weeks ago, as I attended Elf Jr. The Musical, at Alexander Galt Regional High School. While I’ve experienced the sentiment to various degrees throughout my life, it remains a somewhat mysterious thing.
A common explanation for this phenomenon points to the magical veil that has been built into the holiday over time. On a yearly basis, adults have the challenge of maintaining the veil for children, and in the process of doing so they are likely to relive their own magical childhood experiences. This — so the theory goes — would be how and why Christmas cheer is so widely experienced, and not only by religious people. While this has merit as an explanation, I can’t help but sense that there may be more to it than that.
According to Buddy the Elf, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear, and since this was a musical, there was plenty of singing going on, and cheer was certainly being spread. Before the play even began, Christmas songs were playing over the sound system, setting the mood.
As I listened to the music and singing, I began to think of the miraculous nature of music itself. Humans have the unique ability to take sounds and carefully sequence them into pleasant, beautiful, and complex patterns. It is at this point that we call it music. What is notable is that when this is done well, it speaks to us at a level we can’t quite articulate; we experience something that simply can’t be experienced any other way. Whether we create music, play it or actively listen to it, we effectively participate in a transcendent experience. Buddy himself points this out when he sings, “Just sing a Christmas song, it’s like magic when things go wrong. Just spread some Christmas cheer, by singing loud for all to hear.”
It seems that most of the songs we sing at Christmas, be they religiously motivated or not, have something to do with the hope and promise of things to come, and that the way forward is to do what we essentially do when transforming the chaos of random sounds into pleasing music, that is, we are to fully develop potential in the hope of transforming the chaotic elements of our world into something beautiful and meaningful.
The Christmas story centres around the miraculous birth of a child, and the joyous promise of hope and redemption for the world. This hope was a function of the Christ-child’s potential. Would he grow up and fully develop his potential? Would he positively transform the world? Would he one day save humanity?
Regardless of religious belief and affiliation, this is a message that speaks to many at some level or another, and this, I suspect, may be at the core of Christmas cheer.
It may be useful to remember that, though you may not be the product of a miraculous birth, and though no one expects you to save humanity, when you were born, people gazed upon you in awe, and they marvelled at the promise and potential that dwells within you. Have you properly developed that potential? Have you transformed something chaotic into something beautiful? Have you positively transformed the world?
If not, I would encourage you to do so, for your ability for positive action is a reflection of the hope and promise that lies at the very centre of Christmas cheer. Consider Buddy’s advice: “Just sing a Christmas song, and keep on singing all season long. Think of the joy you’ll bring, if you just close your eyes and sing.”
Kevin Richard is a freelance writer based in the Eastern Townships, with a professional and educational background in criminal justice.