Jackie Gingrich Cushman

My house is a mess, my Christmas cards are not done, not to mention my Christmas gifts, and I only have a few days of shopping left to finish it off. Like my daughter, I love decorating the tree, listening to Christmas music and baking treats, but usually end up feeling overwhelmed somewhere along the way.

I think I'm there.

This time of year brings great joy as well as great stress. There is often too much to do, too much to eat, too much to drink, too little sleep and too much family. It's easy to get caught up in the holiday frenzy and forget the meaning and value behind the holidays -- the holy days.

It's time to take a break.

Last week, my children's holiday program at school, "Light One Candle," reminded me of the importance of delving deeper into the spirit of the season rather than focusing on the holiday. The introduction by the head of school reminded the audience of the importance of the school's Judeo-Christian heritage, whose values are foundational to the school. He reflected that these values cannot be transplanted but can only be grown.

My goal is to help my children grow these values in their own lives.

The program began with fifth-graders illustrating the difference between holidays and holy days. Think of it as the difference between gifts, games and fun versus gratefulness, reflection and renewal.

These same Judeo-Christian values are foundational to our nation.

President Calvin Coolidge's speech in honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence addressed this foundation. "(T)he Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period ... the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live. They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit."

Coolidge referred often to the Founding Fathers as "ambassadors of Providence." He understood that God was involved in the founding of our nation. In my recent book, "The Essential American: 25 documents and Speeches Every American Should Own" (Regnery, 2010), which includes this speech by Coolidge, I explained that this understanding "gave him a different perspective; that our nation was born from the spirit, not the man."

We need to understand that it is the spirit of our people that sustains our nation. We must take care of our spirits to ensure our nation is strong.

Coolidge understood that "The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them."

Coolidge believed that this spiritual foundation helped create our nation, and the lack of such a foundation would lead to our nation's demise. "If this apprehension of the facts be correct, and the documentary evidence would appear to verify it, then certain conclusions are bound to follow. A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed."

The things of the spirit come first," Coolidge says in his close. "Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage, which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped."

This fundamental spiritual foundation provides us with optimism. If we believe that God can do anything, then our imagination allows us to picture in our minds what might be possible not by us, but by God working through us. We can envision a better future than might be possible through our own means.

This holiday, pause a minute to take a breath, and focus on the holy day.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.