Tradition, Family and Giving

December 25, 1991

This day of deep religious celebration finds people across the globe carrying on the holiday tradition in a sea of enormous change and uncertainty. The Soviet Union that the world has known and feared for over seven decades is no more. Arab and Israeli negotiators are, amazingly, attempting to reconcile irreconcilable differences of profound human and historical significance. The apartheid that has defined South Africa is gradually melting away as that country continues its tortured struggle toward multi-racial democracy.

At home, a deep recession and fundamental shifts in the economy have imposed a sense of restraint and trepidation on a season typically characterized by generosity and lavish consumer spending. Many Americans have lost their jobs; still more workers are uncertain about future paychecks. There may be less under the tree this year, more handmade and inexpensive gifts, homier, less lavish tables. Yet through it all, the common thread of tradition, family and giving prevails.

Some of us have seen fit to reach beyond our own families, to wrap others in the true spirit of giving. The Cardall family of Salt Lake City, for instance, gained national attention for its efforts in gathering clothes, toys, shoes blankets and other essentials to make life a little easier for Mexican orphans. Closer to home, half a dozen Baltimore families opened their hearts and tables to less fortunate neighbors, giving away groceries and gifts -- many of which they had planned to exchange with each other.

These are only the most visible examples of a counter-commercial holiday spirit that, it seems to us, embraces the true message of Christmas. All over the country, people are quietly reassessing the importance of this day, reaching out to help those without homes, without jobs, without hope. This, the generosity, the caring for one's fellow man that marked the very first Christmas, is the stuff of which this holiday is made.

The economic travails of the day offer an opportunity for serious reflection. As is customary, we will sit down this day to roast turkey, baked ham and the trimmings. Many of us will give thanks for the privilege of marking yet another year together as a family seated around the holiday table. Most of us have what matters most in life. We should all remember that many do not. For those of us who have lent a hand, in the form of money, time or goods, yuletide cheers are in order for a job well done. For those of us who have not, perhaps it is time to look beyond our own narrow horizons to the true meaning of Christmas.

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