I started the very beginnings of Christmas shopping today. This is early for me -- I usually resist thinking too much about the holidays until closer to Thanksgiving, on principle. But I thought that maybe getting some of this stuff done earlier might head off my annual bout of Scrooginess.
Surprise, surprise. The woman who rolled her eyes at "When You Wish Upon a Star" gets a bit Scroogey at Christmas.
It's not that I don't like Christmas. I do. It used to be my favorite time of year, and it may still be. But as time went on, and kids came around and grew older, and so on and so forth . . . it started to feel more and more like a season of obligations.
I got to the point several years ago where I typed up a checklist to print for myself every year so I could keep track of all the things I had to get done before December 25th. Being me, I organized the list -- family traditions, things to do for their spiritual significance, things to do to connect with others, extra stuff that's just for fun. About 75% of the items on the list fell into the "Connecting with Others" category: cards, gifts, social events, traveling, etc. And that's just not right.
Are you gasping in astonishment? No, I'm not a cold ogre. I recognize the value and importance of connecting with others. And Christmas has always been the time of year to do that. "After all," you may be saying, "Christmas is about family . . and children . . and loving each other."
And there's where I disagree.
Christmas is NOT about family. Or children. Our culture has made it about family and children because it has to avoid talking about what it's really about in order not to offend anyone. Family is important. Children are important. But they are absolutely NOT what Christmas is about. Sometimes the way we put these things on a pedestal gets dangerously close to idolatry, I fear.
Christmas is a day of deep spiritual significance, and for all of our fuss about "keeping Christ in Christmas", we've lost much sense of that. Yeah, we read Luke 2 before we rip open the presents. We go to the Christmas pageants at church and bring sugar cookies to share. We listen to the old carols intermingled with Rudolf and Frosty. But most of the time, it is a superficial nod to the Christ of Christmas. Only, perhaps, in a brief moment of atypical peacefulness in the month of December do we really have a chance to think about and meditate on and revel in and rejoice over the concept of Emmanuel -- God with us.
It's a breath-taking idea, really. And the fact that we short-change it for the tinsel and goodies and hurried "Season's Greetings" is to our shame.
I whine about this every year -- to myself at least. I think it's time I did something about it. Maybe writing about it here will hold me accountable. Here's my first step: I have heard of people (friends of friends) who have stopped sending out Christmas cards or letters; they do it on another holiday. Keep the connecting ritual -- don't let it interfere with Christmas. Maybe I'll send out Thanksgiving letters this year.
It's a start anyway.