At the beginning of advent, I wrote about our apparently futile efforts to keep our three-year-old son, Mattias, focused on the central message of Christmas. Though we shared the story with him daily, he continued to insist that Santa was the most important thing about Christmas.

Every day, we sat down at the dinner table and lit the advent candles and read the meditation from the advent book. He’d make it a paragraph into the story before squirming onto the floor or sticking his fingers in the melted wax.

It’s enough to make a parent wonder if anything is sinking in.

Then, a few days before Christmas, Mattias crawled up into his chair at the table and, pointing to each of the five candles in the advent wreath said, “Look dad! All around the Jesus candle is peace, hope, joy and love.”

On Christmas morning, he gasped when he came down the stairs to find an empty milk glass and cookie plate by the fire. He squealed when he found his dinosaur beneath the tree.  Then, before playing with any of his new toys, he headed to the dining room table to help light the candles.

I’ve heard plenty of cynicism this year from any number of people about commercialism devouring the true meaning of Christmas. I’ve shared in the tirades about obligatory stuff-swapping and grudging acceptance of yet another Garfield necktie or fruitcake log. How, after all, do antlers that play “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” remind us of a child born on the fringes of Bethlehem?

I tire of the superficiality and glitter as much as anyone, but to be honest, I’m almost wearier of the complaining about how we’ve lost our way amid the gifts and tinsel. I’ve appreciated the stories I’ve read over the past few weeks about the quiet generosity that often goes unnoticed, all around us.

A woman in Spokane jumped aboard a public bus, along with a cloth satchel filled with envelopes. Before anyone on the bus could identify her, she handed Christmas cards out to everyone on board, each containing a $50 bill, and jumped back off to head to several other buses. No one ever figured out who the mystery woman was, but in the end, she had distributed thousands of dollars to people she had never met.

In Pueblo, scores of churches and community groups joined together to buy gifts for needy families, troops stationed overseas, and to collect clothing and supplies for children abroad. These people will forever be anonymous to those who benefit from their generosity, and they won’t receive so much as a tax break in most cases.

On Christmas day, more than a hundred volunteers took time away from home to feed hundreds of homeless and otherwise isolated people at the Union Depot in what has become an annual tradition. Everyone involved found benefit in the experience according to the Chieftain article, pointing to the fringe benefits of charity for the giver.

Sure, we can all get caught up in the hoopla of the holidays. We eat too much, spend more than we should, and sometimes forget the point. We can find plenty of reasons to believe we’ve gone astray, but in some ways, the Christmas spirit persists quietly around us whether we acknowledge it or not.

Much like the child born to dazed and bewildered parents two thousand years ago, the spirit of Christmas doesn’t impose itself upon the world. It works steadily and quietly whether it’s recognized or not. It whispers amid the shouting, revealing itself one relationship at a time.

Christmas may not look exactly the way we think it should, and we’ll never purge ourselves entirely of the material pageantry. As I watched my son blow out the Christ candle for the last time this year, I’m reminded that people are basically good, despite my inclinations to believe otherwise.

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