A garden of good feelings: Christmas book and craft.

Piddling through The Ideals Classic Christmas Treasury last night with Max reaped formidable rewards. We spent some time reading and discussing Henry Van Dyke’s brief sermon, “Keeping Christmas”.

It is a good thing to observe Christmas day. The mere marking of times and seasons, when men agree to stop work and make merry together, is a wise and wholesome custom. It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life. It reminds a man to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity which runs on sun time. But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellow-men are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness–are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open–are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world–stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death–and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.

And if you keep it for a day, why not always?

But you can never keep it alone.

An image stuck with us. Van Dyke asks if you are willing “to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open”. To identify and bury our ugly thoughts while nurturing and sharing our kindly feelings. Max decided he was willing. I agreed. So we began a joint venture to extend through the holiday season.

Using a paper bag, two sheets of paper, crayons, and a pencil, Max drew a grave and a garden, labelled them, and then attached them to the front of the paper bag which now dangles from the side of our piano.

We made a pinky-swear to jot down our ugly thoughts and throw them in the grave and jot down our kindly feelings and plant them in the garden for the duration of the month. At the end, as we prepare to celebrate the new year, we will open the grave and the garden to see the kinds of thoughts that torment or enlighten us. No peeking. Or “peeping”, as Micah emphasized.

Do you have a special place to dispose of ugly thoughts? Or a special place to honor kindly feelings? How can we extend the feelings into actions?