With Christmas fast approaching, the question begs an answer: Would you know the Christmas spirit if you saw it?

For many, the answer is no. They are so focused on Black Friday, parties and festive lights. The giving of expensive presents and barrels of good cheer are simply the result of our commercial nature. Merchandising has made Christmas begin at Halloween.

Those who say we've lost the true spirit of Christmas aren't far off the mark. Christmas in America has become the most pagan of Christian festivals.

The holiday is celebrated by believers and nonbelievers. It is profitable to the providers of all faiths. A fourth of our economy depends upon Christmas by some estimates.

All those factors have a strong influence on the way Christmas is celebrated. But they aren't the determining reason for any of us losing the Christmas spirit. Whether or not we possess the true spirit of Christmas is up to us.


Christmas at St. Therese

In an effort to ensure the students at St. Therese Catholic School understand the true meaning of Christmas, school administrators began a "Christmas Shoebox" charity project several years ago.

All of the school's students and their families participate.

"We ask each school family to fill a shoebox with items, both fun things and essentials, for a child in need," said Maria McGrath, the school's religion teacher who directs the program each year. "We ask that the parents take the child with them to shop."

The families purchase items such as gloves, socks, hats, T-shirt, school supplies, calculators, toys, games, balls, stuffed animals, dolls, books, coloring books, hair accessories, watches, flashlight, toothbrush, hairbrush, jewelry and candy. The boxes are labeled for a variety of age groups, boy or girl age 2-3, boy or girl age 4-6, boy or girl age 7-9, boy or girl age 10-12, boy or girl  teen, and they are delivered to Pueblo Catholic Charities for distribution to children who are less fortunate.

Who benefits?

That's the neat thing about the Christmas spirit. Those who give benefit as much as those who receive.

The lesson is a simple, but profound one.


Celebratory Mass

This year's shoebox collection was displayed on the altar during the 8 a.m. Mass at The Shrine of St. Therese Catholic Church on Dec. 12. This year's Mass occurred on the annual Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day. While Christmas and the feast are separate observances, the combination of the two added to the significance of the Mass.

This year, the students produced between 60 and 75 filled shoeboxes. Every child in the school took part in the shoebox program in some way.

The children participated in the Mass, performing the readings. At the end of the Mass, they presented their shoeboxes to a representative of Pueblo's Catholic Charities and received praise for their efforts.

"We want them to learn this is the season of giving," said St. Therese Principal Gerard Flores. "We want to give back to Him and to the community at large."


Observing Christmas

The celebration of Christmas has evolved over the centuries. There is no traditional historic way of celebrating the holiday.

Early Christians paid little attention to Christmas as a religious holiday. No one knows the true date of Christ's birth and the major Christian holiday was and remains Easter.

There is some evidence the Nativity occurred in the summer. Many historians believe the church chose Dec. 25 because the winter solstice (Dec. 21) had been observed since primordial times, and it coincided with the Saturnalia, the week-long festival of Saturn that was celebrated by the Romans with general merrymaking.

Many protestants downplayed the celebration of Christmas after the Reformation. Their desire to return the church to the pure days when it was a minor event led Britain to abolish the event in the 1650s when Puritans won control of London.

Eventually, the popularity of Christmas returned, and its importance as a time of love, hope, charity and good cheer returned with it. The spirit of Christmas was both secular and religious and, also, it was hard to resist.


Finding meaning in Christmas

The modern Christmas also is polytheistic. Christians may worship Christ, our saviour who died on the cross for our sins, but the celebration of Christmas is used by others to observe many gods — pleasure, ostentation, self-indulgence, worldly goods, saturation of the senses.

No matter what religion we observe, this is the season to celebrate hope, love and charity for all.