My new Santa greets me whenever I walk into my house.
Made of plaster and painted by residents at the Brookwood Community near Houston, this Santa makes me smile.
In a posture of celebration, Santa’s arms are reaching for the sky and his head is thrown back, looking upward. Across his clay face seems to be an expression of what is written across his belt: Hallelujah!
It might be that Santa is expressing his feelings about having completed his Christmas chores, but I prefer to think he is welcoming the season of joy and jubilation. Since he’s an art piece — and since I bought him — I can project whatever interpretation I want to onto this clay piece!
At this point in my life, I don’t need any more “sit-arounds,” as a friend used to call such decorative objects. And yes, I’m wondering where I’ll store him when the Christmas decorations are put away this year, but between now and then, this particular Santa makes me happy.
Indeed, I have always gotten a kick out of Santa, and I have a collection of Santas, including the top of a music box Santa my mother gave me when she started giving her things away. Mingled among my nativity sets, I enjoy both the actual decorations and the symbolism each one represents. They make me happy.
Happiness, I’m told, can be a cultivated attitude toward life itself, a way of being in the world. I’m told happiness can be a choice, and I have participated in exercises where I’ve listed the activities, people or things that evoke or encourage happiness in my life.
Thinking about what makes me feel happy in this season of the year, my memory takes me to how many times I assured my parents that if I could have this doll or that playhouse for Christmas, I would never ask them for another doll or the various things I needed to carry out the imaginary world I created with my dolls, their clothes, their trappings.
How many things can we humans possibly acquire that we believe will make us happy, only to find that mere things have a shelf life in our affections?
How many accomplishments, achievements and acquisitions do we humans strive for and honestly believe, in the pursuit of them, will finally bring us the happiness for which we long?
How often do we human beings work — and work hard — for what we think will bring us eternal happiness, only to find that happiness in things is fleeting? How many times do humans labor for their whole lives trying to make other people happy by doing more and more for them?
Truthfully, I’m all for achieving, accomplishing and acquiring, but for those of us who are celebrating this Christmas season from within the traditions of Christianity, and for those of us who dare to call ourselves Christian, there is a gift of grace from the Source of life that beats happiness hands down and it is joy. And no amount of striving can fill an empty heart with joy.
While happiness really is an inside job, joy is an inner wellspring that both connects us to the Source of life and is a grace-gift of that connection. To receive joy, you have to be open to joy’s reality as a spiritual quality that can be accessed by a willing heart and mind.
Authentic joy can be experienced even in the midst of pain. Joy cannot be manufactured and putting on a happy face doesn’t mean you have joy in your heart. Joy is the deep, abiding sense of the reality of God-within. Unlike happiness, joy is not dependent on externals, and it never runs out. Happiness comes and goes; joy has the very essence of the Eternal.
As I see it, joy and love and peace are manifestations of the Christmas story, born again and again in human hearts around the world and in our daily lives, and yes, faith, however wobbly or weak mine may be, is part of accessing the dynamic power of inner joy.
My new Santa is fun. He gives me pleasure and expresses how I feel about Christmas.
My nativity sets remind me of the Source of true joy.
Jeanie Miley is a former San Angelo resident, and an inspirational author and speaker. Her column appears Saturdays. Email her at email@example.com.
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