In search of Christmas spirit

The term “Christmas spirit” is tossed around so frequently during the Yuletide season that it’s hard to gauge its true meaning. From a commercial standpoint it exists mostly as a syrupy lure. Here’s an example: “When the ‘Christmas spirit’ tugs at your heartstrings, our super-deluxe (fill-in-the-blank) makes the perfect gift for that special someone,” reads some typically sappy ad copy. When used this way, Christmas spirit serves as a mood inducer to help pry wallets open.  I just checked mine and it feels a bit light. Foiled again!
For many people Christmas spirit is measured in decorative trim and colorful lights. It goes without saying that such expression runs the gamut from mild to wild.  On the latter end of the scale, we all know at least one festive house that wraps itself in lights so very profuse, its glow rivals that of Alpha Centauri. “What’s Christmas without temporary blindness?” its proponents seem to be asking us. Note to self: This year remember to wear my welder’s shield when neighbor Kyle O. Watts gets his Christmas spirit on and trips the lights fantastic. Also, don’t forget the sun block!
Another form of Christmas spirit springs from the innocent hearts of our wee ones. “Daddy, I want an X-box 360 Kinect and $500 worth of I-Tunes gift cards! If you or that fat guy in red don’t get ‘em for me, I’ll throw myself on the floor and scream for an hour, or a day, or a week. Maybe I’ll even do it when we’re at the supermarket in a really l-o-n-g checkout line. Your choice. Feel lucky? Well do you, punk?” Wow. It’s one thing to be shaken down by a hoodlum or a paid solicitor; quite another when it’s your pint-sized daughter. Well, not this year! “Little Princess” must learn respect and the value of money! She’s getting the X-box and only $475 in I-tunes cards!
Finally, there’s a form of Christmas spirit that’s in woefully short supply these days. It doesn’t always look the same, but most know it when they see it. While jogging down East Passaic Ave. in Bloomfield, I happened upon it. Honestly, I felt as if I had been plucked from our graceless age and embedded in a Norman Rockwell painting.
What was it that had such an overpowering effect on me? Well it was nothing grand, like the overpriced baubles that I just bought for my fiancé (you win again, Madison Avenue!), and not nearly as blinding as Mr. Watts’ annual Xmas shrine to alternating current (I can’t see!). It was in fact a simple table with a hodgepodge of Christmas-themed bric-a-brac spread across its top. But what really set it apart was its unusual sign.
“Free Christmas Stuff!” the placard proclaimed with a bold exclamation point. “Take whatever you want or leave some items for others.”
Hmm… How could I even process such a thing in the year 2011?  The sign didn’t ask for money, and the display certainly wasn’t flashy. But many of the items (Xmas glassware, ornaments, pot holders, etc.) were indeed nicer than mere cast-offs. Most importantly, the anonymous homeowner(s) who had set up the table were inviting strangers to help themselves to any or all of the items on top – for free. Were they nuts?
Not even close! For those (myself included) who have had their senses dulled by years of meaningless keep-up-with-the-Joneses faux Christmas spirit, this was a genuine wake-up call. In fact, this was the simple but profound Christmas spirit that I knew as a child but had somehow lost sight of as I morphed into a self-absorbed adult. As I continued with my run I felt a little guilty but I also felt renewed. I made a mental note to drop by the table again with a few of my own Christmas items to place on top. “Just to add to the Christmas Spirit,” I told myself.
Merry Christmas!

— Jeff Bahr

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