Try to define the Christmas spirit and it doesn’t take long to realize it’s no easy task.
“It’s a huge question and one with so many facets that it is nearly impossible to come up with a single definition,” said Bonnie Leadbeater, professor of psychology at the University of Victoria.
“There is the religious aspect, of course, with the Christian tradition of God giving his child to the world. It’s a theme of giving and altruism and it’s carried through even for those who are not followers of any religion.”
Other elements of the season combine to create a common community spirit, Leadbeater said.
“Even for the non-religious, there is a sacredness. Christmas lights drive out the darkness, not just from the night, but from the soul. We feel one with the lights, the music and the community,” she said.
“Its a time of reflection as well as we hang those old ornaments on the tree and recall our common experiences and those we miss from the past. It connects us from one generation to the next.”
Rick Eby, lead pastor at the Sooke Baptist Church, acknowledged Canada has become an increasingly secular nation but said that the story of the Christ child and the themes of sacrifice and redemption contained within that story still resonate with people.
While he ascribed his Christmas spirit to his faith, he said that Christmas provides the secular population with the chance to renew their faith in the goodness of the world.
“People have to believe that,” he said.
For Sooke councillor Al Beddows, Christmas is about all those things, but mostly, it’s about the children.
“Children are all good. The other day I went to watch my grandchildren at their school Christmas concert and it brought a tear to my eye,” said Beddows. “They are innocent and good, and watching them on stage, it made my heart glow.”
Beddows, an active community volunteer, added the glow he felt is undoubtedly shared throughout the community.
“In Sooke, we feel the spirit of Christmas all year long,” said Kim Metzger, the president of the Sooke Food Bank.
“But at Christmas, it’s a time when people stop and reflect. We take stock of our lives and we think, ‘What can I do to help others?’”
She went on to recount how the service groups, schools and others in Sooke band together to spread the spirit to others.
“We have one family who annually donates to make sure every child, no matter what their situation, gets a toy. A few years ago they donated bikes. Last year it was 100 Lego sets and this year they’ve donated 100 art sets. They do it because no child should be left out at Christmas. That’s the Christmas spirit.”
The Christmas spirit has certainly touched Kristy Darling’s life.
Darling is a single mother of three who found herself facing an uncertain future in Sooke.
“My marriage ended and I was left alone and didn’t know anybody. But the people at the food bank took me aside and told me they had my back. Christmas can be a tough time when you don’t have much but I know that we’re going to be OK. They’ve helped me out with advent calendars and decorations, and I just got a gingerbread house and a cookie set. My heart is so full with the help and support I’ve been given,” said Darling.
She added that her children don’t entirely understand the situation, but they have learned about the Christmas spirit.
“My oldest is in Grade 3 and she got together some of her old toys and put them together to take to school and donate to other children. Understand that my kids get only one big gift and stocking stuffers, but they don’t want anyone else not to have a gift either. Maybe that’s what living in a community like Sooke does for you … it makes you think of others.”
So, though defining the Christmas spirit may be a daunting task, in Sooke at least, there’s no denying its existence. That spirit is there as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist in the world.
Perhaps it was best summed up by Dr. Suess when, in his own classic Christmas story, he wrote, “Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.”