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What Is Christmas REALLY About?

“It is our business carefully to cultivate in our minds, to rear to the most perfect vigor and maturity, every sort of generous and honest feeling that belongs to our nature.” – Edmund Burke

One of Howard Stern’s people interrupted his show recently to chastise him for his decision not to send every one of the Stern-related company employees a gift.

“I don’t even want a gift,” she said. “But the fact that you aren’t going to give me one tells me a lot about what kind of a thoughtless person you are.”

“But aren’t you Jewish?” Stern asked.

“That makes no difference, and you know it!”

This, of course, supports my theory that Jewish people need Christmas, too – despite the fact that my Jewish friends insist they are more than happy to do without the stress associated with this holiday. But it also shows how horrible Christmas can be if you think of it as a time when other people are supposed to give you things and make you happy.

Whenever someone tells me that they don’t like Christmas because it depresses them, I want to ask – but don’t – “What makes you think Christmas is a time to spend thinking or worrying about yourself?”

It seems to me that Christmas is not about trying to please everyone. And it’s certainly not about getting. It’s a season for gratitude and generosity.

At Thanksgiving, I thought a lot about gratitude and the many ways being thankful can deepen and enrich your life. Keeping this thought with you throughout the Christmas season is essential if you want to avoid stress and depression and enjoy it the way it can be enjoyed.

Although I certainly think it’s possible to enjoy yourself without getting involved in all the hullabaloo of Christmas, I wouldn’t want to. For me, Christmas really is the season to be jolly. And when I’m jolly, I want all my friends – Christian or not – to be jolly too.

Being jolly at Christmas is one result of practicing the thankfulness you practiced at Thanksgiving. But instead of being merely grateful this Christmas, try adding to it a healthy dose of generosity (a virtue that is at the core of almost every ritual, myth, story, and tradition surrounding Christmas).

Like all virtues, generosity is good for the practitioner. Master the virtue of giving and your life will be doubly blessed. First, you will be recompensed, with interest, for each and every thing you give. Second, your capacity to love life will increase a little each and every time you practice giving.

Generosity is also a skill – and, like all skills, it can be learned and mastered. To master the skill of generosity, you must make it a part of your daily life. You must spend a few minutes every day thinking about how you can give more kindness … time … wealth … and knowledge.

Never be afraid to give. But never give if the purpose of your giving is to derive some sort of benefit. Give freely, but not more than you can afford and not more than the recipient of your generosity can take.

If you give wisely, your generosity will never impoverish you. If you give carefully, your generosity will not do harm. If you give kindly, your generosity will not be resented. If you give regularly throughout your life, you will leave the world a better place than it is now.

Besides practicing thankfulness and generosity toward others, be generous toward yourself.

It’s three days before Christmas, and I’m betting you’re working today. Instead of cramming lots of work into the next eight to 10 hours, give yourself a nice Christmas gift and follow this last-workday-before-Christmas schedule:

7:30 to 9:00: Do something important-but-not urgent, something that will make you a better, happier person.

9:00 to 10:00: Sort through your inbox. Organize everything to be ready for you when you return to the office next week.

10:00 to 10:30: Make phone calls and send e-mails to colleagues and friends wishing them “Happy Holidays.”

10:30 to 11:00: Write down the specific fun things you are going to be doing over the long weekend.

12:00 to 12:30: Clean up your desk. Look busy.

12: 30 to 1:30: Go out to lunch with friends or workmates. Have a cocktail.

2:30: Go home early.

That’s what I’m going to do … and it’s pretty much the same thing I did last year.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]