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The season of Christmas gives us the annual chance to banish, at least temporarily, the ‘seven deadly sins’. At this time of year, we often witness acts in which humility conquers pride — people putting others before themselves, offering gifts, both simple and staggering — to help their fellow human beings have an enjoyable Christmas. It takes humility to know that if life had been just a little different, if we had taken a different path, it could just as easily have been us in need of donations of clothing, gifts for children and grandchildren, food parcels and meals, etc.

The power of kindness beats envy, hands down. I have witnessed people in pursuit of the perfect present graciously deferring to others, allowing them to reach for a coveted toy before they plunge into hunting the shelves themselves. They are moved by the same spirit of generosity that sees gifts and toys donated in their thousands to ‘toy runs’ by charities and churches.

Abstinence sounds severe and decidedly out of step with our national embrace of hedonism, but it is proof against gluttony. In moderation and muted celebration comes comfort and a lack of intestinal distress. In sharing comes parity and equity.

Chastity is an old-fashioned word for love, and debatably a lost concept, but guiding and guarding against exploitation can protect against predatory lust. With hordes of post-year 12 ‘schoolies’ descending on summer idylls, various charities and groups run programs and services that protect inebriated and intoxicated young people from falling prey to unwanted attentions, and they ensure that festive revellers who have lost the plot get home safely.

Patience is proof positive against the abuse of anger. We can all conjure examples where patience has been hard to find — in Yuletide-ridden traffic and carparks, waiting in the checkout-lane at shopping outlets, in family meetings to plan the Christmas gathering — but the mere fact that we survive the gauntlet of expectations speaks volumes. In countries across the world that celebrate Christmas or other major religious festivals at this time of year, billions of hard-pressed lovers and parents have breathed in deeply, counted to 10 (or 100) and once more delved into the minutiae of the season. Daring to celebrate the hope that the celebration brings.

Generosity easily overcomes the greed and selfishness of those for whom number one is all that matters. Each year, despite growing anger and dread at the rising cost of living, the general public, charities, agencies and faith groups donate and distribute tens of thousands of toys and gifts to those in need.

The joy and wonder in a child’s eyes at receiving a present on Christmas morning radiates to encompass all those around. The grateful smile of a stranger to whom we have offered help brings a smile to our own hearts. We experience the truth of the adage that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others. In fact, there is research to support the idea that our own happiness is strongly influenced by the kindness and generosity that we show others.


'The choice to celebrate Christmas only with our own mob and on our own terms, outside of any recognition of those around us, lessens us. Christmas brings hope. The prospect of peace. The possibility of joy. These coming days truly are the best time to be human, to share what we have and who we want to be.'


Finally, diligence always transcends sloth, especially in the pursuit of the perfect gift. All the effort is worthwhile when we see the pleasure a thoughtful gift brings to someone we love.

There are many things wrong with our world. There are wars, bickering and backbiting enough to fill our Santa sacks many times over. There is climate change, inflation, poverty and social inequality, crime and violence, unemployment, and financial and political corruption. Lots of hard conversations that need to be had. But despite all this darkness, at this time of year we hope to discover and share the belief that life wins.

This may read as twee balderdash to some or glib middle-class prattle. The season’s manic greetings certainly highlight the differences between people. Those who have family and those who don't. Those who have somewhere to go for Christmas dinner and are actually welcomed there and those who don't, and aren’t. Those who are celebrating a baby’s first Christmas, and those who dread this time of year because of the loss of a loved one. Those who will over-eat and those who will have nothing to eat.

Counsellors will attest that the number of attempted suicides rises on Christmas Day. Lifeline receives a surge in business, with thousands of people in distress and pain dialling in.

This reality of our neighbours reaching out for help is not new but is exacerbated by the holiday season. It means we are required, by our humanity, to be aware of the lives beyond our own sphere.

A wise woman I know once taught me that Christmas is not about family — unless it includes hospitality for those without family. It is not about presents — unless we give to those who cannot give back. It is not about carol services and singing of good cheer — unless that celebration is balanced by sacrificial service.

The next week or so can be a very selfish time. But it does not have to be. The desire to celebrate Christmas does not make us brutes. But the choice to celebrate Christmas only with our own mob and on our own terms, outside of any recognition of those around us, lessens us. Christmas brings hope. The prospect of peace. The possibility of joy. These coming days truly are the best time to be human, to share what we have and who we want to be.




Barry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Main image: Chris Johnston illustration. 

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Christmas, Virtues



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