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Woster: Ponder your kindness, generosity and enjoy Christmas joy all year long

It’s a good day to take a few steps back, a few deep breaths and a few minutes to reflect, gauging where I am in my life and whether it’s where I want and need to be.

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Saturday is Christmas Day, the day when Charles Dickens’ character, Ebenezer Scrooge, awoke to find that he hadn’t missed it at all.

Of course he hadn’t. Visited by three spirits during the course of what must have been a troubled night of sleep, Scrooge came awake to the miracle of Christmas with a light heart and a merry, giving spirit. He had revisited his past, had his eyes opened wide about his place in the present and had seen the bleak future awaiting him if he failed to change his heart – “If these shadows remain unaltered in the Future,’’ as the ghost of Christmas yet to come ominously tells him.

In my favorite video version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,’’ the Scrooge character played by George C. Scott climbs out of bed, opens the window to the sound of bells and asks a young boy what day it is. Assured that it is Christmas Day, Scrooge is jubilant. “I haven’t missed it,’’ he says. “The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can.’’

Scrooge, as the story ends, goes on to keep Christmas in his heart better than anybody else in London, buying a massive turkey for Bob Cratchit’s family, doubling Bob’s salary and in general becoming a caring, giving old fellow.

I can’t recall the first time I read “A Christmas Carol.’’ I think I was in junior high. I loved the transformation of the miserly Scrooge. On some dark nights, I wondered if, perhaps, there were spirits that might come visit me in the night if I weren’t kind and generous. Those aren’t easy things for a schoolboy to be. I tended, over the years, to think of the Dickens’ tale when I woke from my sleep on Christmas morning.

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I’m pretty sure it never hurt me to ponder my kindness and generosity first thing on Christmas Day. It’s a good day to take a few steps back, a few deep breaths and a few minutes to reflect, gauging where I am in my life and whether it’s where I want and need to be. A short period of personal reflection doesn’t spoil the excitement and joy of a Christmas Day celebration. It may, in fact, enhance the joy and the celebration.

Sometimes during my years, I had trouble remembering to pause and reflect. For many years I played in a folk choir at church in Pierre. We always did the Midnight Mass, arriving at the church around 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve and getting home around 2 a.m. Christmas Day. I enjoyed celebrating in song with the rest of the choir and the congregation, but sometimes I awoke to Christmas Day feeling exhausted and brain drained. Sometimes, as we went about the preparations for the main holiday meal, I snapped at people, forgetting to hold Christmas in my heart the way Dickens recommended.

I remember a year when I came downstairs to start the preparations and my granddaughter greeted me warmly. She was maybe 4 or 5 at the time. She followed me everywhere I went that morning, always at my elbow, always smiling. Finally, she whispered, “Can I tell you a secret?’’

“Well, sure, always,’’ I replied.

“I’m supposed to stay close to you so you stay in a good mood,’’ she said, as sweet and as innocent as a Christmas angel.

Her words made me laugh. They also made me think, and they made me consider how I was doing with that whole personal reflection thing, that “hold Christmas in my heart’’ thing. It didn’t take long to see that I could do better.

Through a lifetime of Christmases, that one remains a favorite memory. A couple of quotes I read somewhere, sometime, also remain favorites.

The first, anonymous, says “May you never be too grown up to search the skies on Christmas Eve.’’ The second, attributed to David Grayson, is great advice for all of us, I think. “As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year,’’ he said.

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Christmas joy doesn’t have to end after Christmas Day.

What to read next
A regular opinion piece by columnist Terry Woster
"My best advice as a faith leader is to seek out where you can find the Spirit, God’s active presence in the world, still at work. This can be in the talented medical staff taking care of your loved one; this could be in the network of friends who rally to your side. The Spirit is there, at work, somewhere."
A regular column from Terry Woster
A regular opinion piece from columnist Terry Woster.