Guest Commentary: The real spirit of Christmas

By Gov. Dennis Daugaard

Former President Calvin Coolidge was known as “Silent Cal,’’ but the quiet statesman spoke volumes about the meaning of Christmas.

“Christmas,’’ Coolidge said, “is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.’’

Oh, sure, I know. Tell that to a 10-year-old girl or boy bursting with excitement at the thought of tearing into the brightly wrapped presents under the tree. For children, yes, Christmas is very much about the anticipation of gifts, the giving and receiving of gifts and the thrill of opening the gifts. It’s all they can do to contain themselves.

And, let’s be honest. Just because some of us are adults doesn’t mean we don’t feel that same excitement, whether we’re watching a child or grandchild open that “special’’ gift from us or we’re seeing the anticipation in the eyes of a child as we open a gift from them. I hope none of us ever grows too old to get excited about that part of Christmas.

But as we grow older, we come to understand deep in our hearts that Christmas is much more than presents. As students home from college, for example, or soldiers on leave from military duty, we appreciate simply being “home for the holidays,’’ sharing the joys of the season with family and friends, reliving and repeating the traditions that made our family’s Christmases unique and memorable. There is a sense of peace and, yes, goodwill, in those familiar traditions shared with loved ones. That, I think, is the state of mind to which President Coolidge referred when he spoke of the real spirit of Christmas.

Peace and goodwill are on my mind this Christmas even more than most years. In the past few days, I’ve been honored to participate in two very different but equally emotional ceremonies with the South Dakota National Guard.

On Dec. 14, I joined soldiers and family members in Harrisburg, where members of the Guard’s 1742nd Transportation Company prepared to deploy for a year-long tour in Afghanistan. Holiday or not, they answered the call to duty, leaving homes and families just days before Christmas.

Last Tuesday, I shared in the joy of a welcoming home ceremony in Pierre for the Guard’s 152nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, back from a tour in Afghanistan just in time for Christmas with their loved ones.

One unit deploying, another returning, each demonstrating in the most basic way the spirit of giving that, more than anything else, is Christmas. I pray for the safe return of the 1742nd, and I offer a prayer of thanks that the 152nd is home for the holidays.

I wish each of them and all of you the peace and goodwill of a merry Christmas.

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