In these days leading up to the 25th, Ellyn von Huben reflects on the "fun" holiday that has replaced Christmas, the lukewarm version of a celebration which, lacking in meaning, offers little more than the occasion for twinkle lights and used wrapping paper. This Christmas, we certainly need more than that. Ellyn explains.
Christmas is hard to avoid. For the devout Christian who wishes to keep his heart in Advent it is almost adversarial. The music and decorations begin right after Halloween; as I have mentioned before, the American Thanksgiving holiday has been subsumed as minor part of the ramping up to Christmas. And Twelve Days of Christmas exist for many people as just a song echoing in their heads as they haul the Christmas tree to the curb on December 26. It’s a given that it won’t be heard on radio or Muzak at that point.
Given the saturation of Christmas in America, it is not surprising that those who do not believe should appropriate the trappings and fun of the holiday. Really, what’s not to like? There is sentimental music, food, glittery decorations, presents - all to be enjoyed.
Last week there was another op-ed piece to be added to the canon of exclamations of “We Love Christmas! – Who Needs Jesus?” The Room for Debate column in the New York Times, “Holidays Without God”, was a lively exchange between a mother in a mixed faith family (more correctly, mixed faith traditions, as she disavowed any faith) and a father in a nominally Jewish family. I am not sure which family’s story I found to be more baffling – the mixed family celebrating two holidays that they didn’t really believe in or the Jewish family who wished to leave God out of the story of Hanukkah, laundering the story of the Maccabees of any ‘downer’ elements to make it more fun. God is now to be spoken about in the hushed, nervous tones that parents once reserved for the dreaded “facts of life” talk. The biblical narrative of good and evil, violence and intrigue, exile and redemption, should be totally expunged so as not to trouble young minds or the minds of their parents.
The Jewish author goes so far as to compliment the mixed-faith family for achieving “a wonderful balance.” As if balance is to be found in two celebrations devoid of meaning.
At the other extreme, it is easy for us to take offense at atheist groups who work very hard to have nativity scenes and other Christmas displays removed from public venues. But I would ask you to ponder for a moment the hypothesis that the radical atheists have a sharper vision (if only subconsciously) of the holiday than those who acquire the superficial trappings. The sweet child in the manger is also he who “will come to set the earth on fire.” (Luke 12:49) We celebrate the coming of the Savior; the Word made flesh to dwell among us. Atheists who hold fast to their disbelief give more witness to the power of this cuddly babe than those who merely hum along with the Christmas tunes, hang the lights, and swap the gifts.
Christmas is hard to avoid. And I am not trying to convey any animosity towards those who have been drawn in by the warmth and beauty of the celebration’s trappings. It is unavoidable and almost irresistible. All I want for Christmas (so to speak) would be for those who find it attractive to open their hearts to what is at its center.
Oxymoronic declarations of the “Joy of Celebrating a Godless Christmas”, such as Slate reprinted recently, leave an especially sour taste given the grief that has washed over our nation in the past days. We must see the need for something beyond twinkling lights and glittery gift wrap, for there is no true joy to be found in those alone. In a moment of desolation all the trappings of celebration are especially empty and bitter when the true gift is absent from the festivities. For those who know the reason for the season and open their hearts to him, there is always cause for hopeful joy. Without him the rest is a vacuous illusion.
Ellyn von Huben is a writer, speaker and Word on Fire Blog contributor.
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