I was snuggling with my children the other night, watching the annual broadcast “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and talking with them about which character they most identified with. My elder son and daughter both side with the titular character, blasting the avarice and commercialism that seems to consume many of their generation. My younger daughter sympathizes most with Sally, which gives me pause, and my younger son likes Snoopy. Of course, our infant newborn just likes the colors and music.
As they each nodded off to sleep, dreaming their Christmas dreams with a Vince Guaraldi Trio soundtrack, I pondered the same question. Being of a decidedly philosophical bent, I cannot help but see each character as exemplifying a different perspective on the holiday season.
Like Charlie Brown, I too get a touch of melancholy during this season. Like Lucy, I’m suspicious that “a big eastern syndicate” is behind it all. Like Linus, I’m glad to set someone straight on the “reason for the season.” But like Snoopy, I love a good “lights and display contest.”
Now I’m not one to begrudge anyone an opportunity to make a living — especially in these difficult economic times — but the commercialism of Christmas is obviously out of control. A few days ago my newspaper published a survey that finds almost half of Americans would rather skip Christmas this year. The reason most often given is that people “don’t have enough money” to celebrate the holiday.
Just let that sink in… not having enough money to celebrate Christmas.
The observance of a day when there was “no room at the inn” and it’s causing many to lose sleep. The holiday that marks the holy night our Lord was born in a manger, and 45 percent of Americans would rather it be put out to pasture. Irreverent punning aside, this is just messed up!
It’s instructive to remember that Christmas wasn’t always even that significant a religious festival. In the Middle Ages, Epiphany was celebrated more widely. Following the Protestant Reformation, the Puritans took a dim view of Christmas, labeling it a mere Catholic invention with the “trappings of popery.” Their counterparts in colonial Boston actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas from 1659 to 1681 — talk about “Bah, humbug!”
Christmas didn’t really start to become a big deal in America until the 1820s, with several short stories written by Washington Irving, and, of course, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” the poem by Clement Clarke Moore. Christmas carols came back into fashion in the 1830s; Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843; and the first commercial Christmas card was produced that same year. And by 1850, a character in a book by Harriet Beecher Stowe, The First Christmas in New England, actually complained that the true meaning of Christmas was lost in a shopping spree.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
So, amid all the commercialism and very real financial stress, how does one focus on the mystery of the Godhead veiled in human flesh, revealed to us first in a dirty stable in Bethlehem?
Well, for one, why not make a conscious decision to downsize your Christmas celebration this year? You heard me. Since it’s likely that you don’t want to go along with all the preplanned discontentment of the marketers anyway… just don’t.
Of course, be sure you talk about this with your loved ones. Most of us are conditioned to see expensive gifts and decorating as required expressions for the holidays… but they’re really not.
Now I’m not saying you should end all gift-giving, but why not give one or two well-chosen gifts to a loved one rather than a handful of tawdry baubles or ephemeral electronic gadgets? Advent highlights God’s ultimate gift to us in our Lord Jesus Christ, why not express this truth with your loved ones and neighbors during these economically troubling days?
I really feel like we’ve made Christmas harder than it needs to be. Let’s take the drudgery, debt, and sense of obligation out of it, and put in some real revelry and glad-hearted service.
There’s no need to opt out of Christmas if we keep Christ in.