I had a hard time getting into Christmas this year. There was a moment early in December when the mood struck, up at Longs Pukalani one day.
It was windy with high clouds, and people were festive. "Going Grandma's for visit," said a young local guy with two scarlet poinsettias in his arms. A gray-haired woman loaded her car with rolls of brightly colored paper. An older customer cheerfully hunted down errant shopping carts.
I took my poinsettia home, eager for the beginning of the season. And then nothing happened. We went to Haleakala Waldorf School's Holiday Faire, but it was a hot, voggy day and even the wreaths of native plants failed to move me.
I get irritable in this kind of weather, and it didn't let up. One day I hung up on a holiday pitch from the Environmental Defense Fund (yes, I'll renew my membership; just don't call me!). A few hours later I attempted to pass a young woman driving agonizingly slowly on the speed bumps in my neighborhood, who promptly drag-raced me up the street and paused at the corner, hurling invectives.
I loved seeing Warren and Helen McCord again when we went to the Kula Botanical Garden for the annual tradition of selecting a freshly cut Christmas tree. Everything seems brighter and rarefied up there. But then our annual Christmas tree fight ensued, also a tradition.
Clearly, I needed the help of an expert. I pulled off at picturesque St. John's Church in Keokea one day, as its exalted spot on the mountain is usually good for a spiritual lift. "Where do I find the Christmas spirit?" I asked at the office. I was promptly ushered in to meet the church's new pastor, the Rev. Kerith Harding, who had some answers.
The advent of Christmas, she said, is a time to reorient ourselves to our values. "Am I living out these values? Am I loving my neighbor? Am I helping serve the least of these? The love Jesus represents is accessible to us every day. It's not about the gold jewelry."
It might be helping an elderly neighbor or making a phone call to an estranged family member. It might be as simple as offering eye contact and a smile to a stranger. "Open your heart, look for opportunities," she said. "If you're turned towards God, you never know what will come your way. Take those opportunities. That's the spirit of love, of Christmas, speaking to you in that moment."
I got to thinking about plantation Christmases on Maui in the 1930s, when people didn't expect as much as we do today, when the spirit of giving and sharing was a daily reality. Children were happy to receive the rare treat of an apple or an orange and a small bag of candy at a local church.
Over Christmas, Ethel S. Baldwin would turn Rainbow Park above Makawao Union Church into a showcase of holiday magic. She brought in a large tree from the forest until the Norfolk pines she planted there grew large enough. At her request, the Paia power plant pump operators made large wooden toy ornaments for the tree: a crescent moon, star, sailing ship, boat, anchor, hat, doll, stocking, ball, railroad engine, railroad cars, airplane and cane-hauling truck. White lights ringing the tree flashed on and off at intervals, except for the star at the top. People from all over brought their children to view the wonder.
One day in the parking lot at Makawao Library, Audrey Love, the security guard/one-woman welcoming committee, informed me that Whole Foods had the most delicious Sweet Harvest Pumpkin tea on sale. "Two for $6," she said. "It just makes me feel Christmassy." Audrey walked over to her car and handed me two tea bags. I went home and made myself a perfect cup of holiday tea.
My neighbor, a former nuclear submarine mechanic, helped me put up the magnificent Christmas tree and stayed to admire it over a cup of Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride. (Thank you, Celestial Seasonings.) I put the white-lace tablecloth my dear mother gave me on the dining room table, a nice backdrop for the red poinsettia and the black cat with green eyes.
I guess that's when Christmas began for me. One wants the great gifts of the season, the heart upwelled and open to glory. But as the Rev. Harding said, most often its spirit is found in the little things.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.