I find it nearly impossible at this time of year to remove from my mind the image of Clarence in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” You remember Clarence, the rookie angel trying to win his wings by saving George from jumping off a bridge in despair. Clarence seemed to touch the heart of Christmas innocence when, with boyish joy and a gleam in his eye, he asked the bartender for a hot toddy at the raucous local bar.

The season of Christmas is, for many, filled with emotions that range from excitement to gratitude to dread. We sing songs about joy while remembering fondly the Christmases past and the people who are gone from our lives. It’s a time for distant families to gather together – and for all of us to feel the exhaustion of managing it all.

I celebrate the spirit of Christmas each year, but with a tinge of sadness. The holiday seems to be more consumed by materialism with each passing year. I feel this most acutely when watching the news on Black Friday, as people elbow others out of the way to sprint their way through stores, wide-eyed with the latest strain of shopping madness.

Now when Christmas rolls around each year, I become more discouraged by what has been happening with Christmas over time. The ever-increasing frenzy to buy things. To give people multiple gifts. To keep up with neighbors or family members. Busying ourselves with indulgence. And I ask myself, where in all of this does the spirit of Christmas live?

When I was in my 20s and a high school dropout with two young children living in humorless poverty, I would tell the kids they had a choice for Christmas. We could either buy a few gifts for each other or we could use what little money we had to find our way to southern Florida to visit their Memere, splash in the warm Atlantic and soak up the sun. It was never, for any of us, a hard decision. We always went to Florida.

We’d drive a transport car southward from Boston to save money. In later years, we’d ride the train. Eventually I was able to buy what had to be the ugliest car ever made, a lime green VW rabbit. Eventually we found a way to secure a very used 24-foot motor home to get us there and back, and we felt we’d reached the pinnacle.

What strikes me now, looking back to those years, is how few gifts any of us really remember. And how we can hardly forget memorable things that we do together.

The Christmas we know today is a surprisingly new invention. Christians have celebrated the holiday for centuries, of course, but it’s only in the last hundred years or so that the holiday has been overtaken by retailers. A hundred years ago, most gifts were made, not bought. The idea of giving someone multiple gifts would have been considered either rude or deranged.

Christmas was a quieter holiday, more focused on family and community and spirit. It was a holiday to gather with loved ones and remember the essential teachings of the man from Nazareth. That we should love. Show kindness and charity. Be tolerant and forgiving.

I wonder, sometimes, if this holiday has become the greatest challenge to those teachings, a test to see if we really understand the words of the man we celebrate on Christmas. In the confusion of modern life and the demands of the greatest holiday, do we remember what is truly important? Can we find our way back to the garden from which we come?

Sometimes I wish we would work harder to revive the spirit of Christmas. That we could use less of our time shopping and more of it reaching out to someone we haven’t spoken with in a long time. For gathering families and giving hugs and helping those among us who are less fortunate or more discouraged.

I want the spirit of Christmas back. I want Clarence to help us. And Tiny Tim. And the Ebenezer Scrooge who rediscovered his goodness. I want them to help us keep the spirit of Christmas spirit alive. To help us learn to live the holiday more quietly and gratefully.

Each year, I’m trying to hold up one small candle for the spirit of Christmas. I have a feeling that if we all did that, in our own way, Christmas would be safe. It would be renewed. And so would we all.

Peace be with you.

Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” and “Reinventing Maine Government.” He can be contacted at:

[email protected]