Three Clues to Unlock the Wonder of Christmas

16/12/2014 05:46 GMT | Updated 14/02/2015 10:59 GMT
Tom Merton via Getty Images

I confess. I am one of those Christmas-enthusiasts. There is something about sparkling lights and the smell of pine (ok, and maybe eggnog) that restores marvel to my soul. While I deeply honor that this is a tradition tied to the birth of Jesus Christ, I also honor the magic that the holiday season brings in the imagination of our hearts.

I am moved by Christmas, not only because of its religious significance, but because it is a tradition of imagination and enchantment that has somehow survived the modern wave of rationalism and progress.

Of course, I do not claim to deny the commercialism and frenzy that have latched themselves on to our celebration. But the eternal optimist in me believes that underneath it all, the essence of miracles and meaning still remains.

And, there is even value in seeing through our tendencies to turn what is sacred into sales. The very reflection of the consumerism surrounding this holiday can lead us into deeper tides of reflecting upon our misaligned priorities and loss of soul--how essential holy days are in a modern society severed from deep traditions of ritual and relationship to the unseen world.

Here are three important reminders (from three wise men) that speak to the necessity of imagination and wonder in the human psyche. Christmas, to me, still stands as a beacon of possibility, a tradition of ritual, remembrance and reflection that is essential amidst the secular intellectualism and literalism of the contemporary world.

(1) "If we could recover the imaginal we must first recover its organ, the heart, and its kind of philosophy." -James Hillman

The famous story of Dr. Seuss's Grinch speaks to the ability of Christmas to make its way into the heart:

"And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say, that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day. And then, the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!"

The heart lights up at Christmas because, finally, we are allowed to believe in magic, in myth and story. There is an extra twinkle in our eye because we are permitted to believe in figures and images that fill our psyche and heart with wonder and mystery.

It is not often we are given this liberty, especially as adults. There is something in the air at this time of year that leads to a collective recovery of the heart.

(2) "We might say, then, that the term "religion" designates the attitude peculiar to a consciousness which has been changed by experience of the numinosum" -Carl Jung.

The word "numinous" is often used in depth psychological discussion on the sacred. Carl Jung borrowed this word from Rudolf Otto, who defined the term in his book, The Idea of the Holy. The term is used to capture the essence of religious experience or holiness that remains inexpressible, and beyond our logical conceptions.

The numinosum points to the holy that comes with direct and immediate experience. It is brought forth by ritual and sacrament, when an individual is open to a true encounter with the divine.

Christmas restores a sense of the numinous to our experience of the world, and history. Whether it be through the story of the birth of Christ--who was announced by angels, conceived miraculously, born in a manger--or of the three wise men who followed their intuition and a star in the sky or of a large jolly man who soars in the night sky on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, there are threads of the invisible world that make themselves known at this time of the year.

And logic is left behind.

(3) "Enchantment is a spell that comes over us, an aura of fantasy and emotion that can settle on the heart and either disturb it or send it into rapture and reverie." -Thomas Moore

We've all been there as children on Christmas morning. The rapture of magic and possibility keeps us awake and butterflies dance in our stomach. The cookies and milk have been eaten. Christ has appeared in the manger. Angels sing. And it is almost too much amazement to hold inside.

But, somehow, deep within us even as adults, that small child lives on. We need enchantment. Without it, something dies. The streams of rapture and reverie are immensely refreshing (and necessary) to the soul.

Christmas reminds us of this.

Allow yourself to fall under its charm, and somehow, you will believe again in magic and the world becomes undeniably wonder-ful again.

"I honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."

-Charles Dickens