I think I know how Eliza Doolittle felt on that fateful day when Professor ‘Enry ‘Iggins finally taught her how to vocalize her H’s! It’s that thrill of discovery, that shock of pleasure over a found 5-dollar bill. It comes unexpectedly, often when least expected—that sensation of sheer joy and rightness with the moment.
Or maybe it’s more of a relief for me, relief that finally I’m starting to feel some of the Spirit of Christmas.
This is the second week of Advent. In Christian theology, we’re to use this time to continue preparing for the coming savior. That means repenting bad behavior or attitudes, and spreading the joyful news of God’s love in the form of a baby boy. Last week I fell short on both counts. Last week I was too embittered by my distaste of “the holidays” and the commercialization of what, to me, is a sacred event to even think about the true joy and the love that are being shared every day, despite the shopping frenzy taking place at the center of the secular universe.
Then something wonderful happened last week at work. It was Friday actually, the end of a long week of meetings to arrange, phone calls to answer, customer needs to attend to…things of that nature. And it was a complete surprise. Earlier in the week I had asked my boss if we were going to decorate for “the holidays.” I had mentioned it not necessarily because I wanted to cave into another meaningless (in my jaundiced view) holiday expectation, but because it was on a December to-do list I’d found in my files, left by my predecessor in the position. I read the list, sighed inwardly, and trudged into my boss’s office to ask if I should get started decorating.
She was agreeable, and I put in a work ticket to have our departmental tree brought up from its storage space somewhere in the bowels of the building. I tried not to roll my eyes while they put the metal-and-plastic thing together, tried not to cheer that I wasn’t burdened with stringing the lights—even though they’d purchased a couple brand-new (not-yet-tangled) sets for us. And I tried be patient while they unearthed the rest of the decorations from their hiding place.
When they did, it sat there next to my desk, that carton filled with shiny orbs of red and gold, and some hand-made red-white-and-blue ornaments from the Centennial year, until my boss came in, noticed them, and suggested we start decorating. She’d even gone out of her way to buy some new decorations—glittering angels in red and snowflakes in white, gold tinsel and plaid ribbon—to add to the collection.
So the two of us began hanging the ornaments, enlisting the help of one co-worker to make a bow for the top of the tree, then another (taller) colleague to attach the bow and dress the top of the tree. About an hour later, after a few walks around the tree to make sure we hadn’t missed any spots, we declared ourselves done and stood back to admire our work.
I have to say, my heart did lighten some. Maybe at this stage of my life my neural processes are just coded to react with pleasure at the sight of a decorated Christmas tree. Or maybe it was the thought that my boss—whose day is so filled with meetings and commitments and solving one problem after another that she can barely breathe—took time from her schedule to help me decorate.
And she wasn’t done either. We’d been discussing for a couple days that we needed to make sure to include traditions of other religions and cultures in our “holiday” displays but have had some difficulty finding them in local stores. On her way into the office from an appointment on Friday she stopped at a party store and found Hanukkah decorations—an electric menorah, a “Happy Hanukkah” sign in glittery silver and blue, and some more “blingy” decorations to hang from the ceiling. We found a spot for the menorah, taped the sign up, and made arrangements for the facilities team to hang the rest from the ceiling.
It was toward the end of the day when I dusted my hands, literally, glad to be done with that chore, and prepared to store the boxes until after the new year. A coworker hurrying past my desk stopped short, turned around and asked, “You got a menorah?!” She moved closer, a big smile brightening her face as clearly as the lights on the tree.
I explained that our boss had picked it up and that we had wondered whether to keep it fully lit now or to wait to light the bulbs, one each day, at the beginning of Hanukkah. She offered several suggestions on how to handle, then smiled again, placed her hand on her heart and said, “In all the years I’ve been here, we’ve never had a menorah. I feel so included!”
And that’s when it struck me. That was my epiphany of Christmas spirit. Amidst all the craziness of the workday, that one small gesture had made a meaningful impact on one person’s life. And what better message to send during Advent than to care for each other at least as well as we care for ourselves, to honor others’ traditions and heritage, even as we spread the good news of ours, and to focus more on what binds us (“the holidays”) than what separates us.
Wishing all a week of joyous discoveries.