A gift of hope

On the penultimate day of #12DaysofXmas, Sam Hollis, Senior Strategist, reflects on the true meaning of Christmas.

Respectfully acknowledging the original premise of Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, I think that if you took to the streets and conducted an impromptu survey of random members of the public about what Christmas means to them, you would hear some familiar themes. 

If you asked a child, you would likely be told that Christmas is about presents. That's receiving rather than giving; I don't care what John Lewis would have us believe.

There is a complex system for acquiring these presents - firstly you submit your wish-list to Santa Claus, a jolly bearded man with only one outfit. (Presumably, like the late Steve Jobs, this is an executive timesaving decision as well as a personal branding consideration.) Santa has been keeping tabs on whether you've been bad or good (kudos to whichever parent originally came up with this stroke of genius).

Hoping very much to pass this test, you submit a humble offering to please this god-like geriatric. Usually a mince pie and a glass of brandy does the trick, as well as a single carrot for Rudolph - although I always wondered what the rest of the reindeer think as they watch, shivering, as everyone's favourite reindeer chows down on his 100th carrot of the evening while they stand, hungry and resentful.

If you do all this, then a stocking stuffed with gifts awaits you when you wake up, followed by a heady mix of presents, music, games, Christmas telly and chocolates hanging like forbidden fruit on the Christmas Tree.

Now, if you asked a grown-up what Christmas is about, you would likely hear that it's about family.

What is the perfect Christmas day? Everyone coming together, overcoming differences and sharing good will.  A perfectly orchestrated and delicious Christmas lunch with everyone round the table. The swapping of presents. Granddad falling asleep on the sofa. Board games and the joy and laughter of children playing ringing round the house.  And of course, bidding farewell to the year and looking ahead to the next.

So what ties these two interpretations of Christmas together?

I think it's hope.

That things turn out how you want. That you get what you deserve. That you get what you don't deserve. That everything will be ok.

But hope is much more than just a placeholder emotion that marks time. In fact, in many ways hope is more important than the outcome.

The more I've thought about our relationship with hope - our capacity for it, dependence on it, its influence on our lives - the more I believe it is the most fundamental human quality we possess. It is the base from which all our other emotions are influenced.

Joy without hope is short-lived. Desire without hope just aches. Love without hope will not sustain. Sadness without hope is engulfing. Fear without hope is absolute.

Of all human emotions, is any more powerful than hope? Of any human condition, is any worse than hopelessness?

The absence of hope is despair. When you lose hope, the light of the soul is turned out, the body becomes a shell.

The Czech philosopher, playwright and politician Václav Havel said, “Hope is the deep orientation of the human soul that can be held at the darkest times.”

I wish all of you a happy Christmas, and encourage you to indulge yourselves and celebrate with those you love. And as you do, spare a thought for those who are struggling to be hopeful, and try to do at least one thing - however big or small - to give a little hope to those that need it most.  A gesture, a phone call, an act of compassion, a donation of time or money.

A simple act of Christmas goodwill might just be enough to bring a little light into someone's dark time. It could be the most important gift you give this year.

Merry Christmas.