I don’t like Christmas. Okay, that’s not entirely true. To be precise, I don’t like what Christmas has become: the slick, sappy, overly-commercialized capitalistic extravaganza that now constitutes the holiday season—a season that begins shortly after Labor Day and runs through the end of January.
I didn’t always feel this way. Looking back, I have some wonderful memories of childhood Christmases in Indiana. There was snow on the ground, presents around the tree, a dinner table covered with food, and rooms filled with family and friends. For me, things changed when I took a job in a grocery store. From that day on, I began to associate Christmas with cranky customers, howling kids, long hours, and even longer lines of people purchasing things they didn’t need for people they didn’t particularly like. And all this in the name of “Peace” and “Good Will” to our fellow humans beings. Even among church-goers, the slogan “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” has become a commercially successful shibboleth which has helped line the pockets of many a Christian bookstore owner.
At its heart, Christmas is an inherently bittersweet event—as well it should be if viewed from a theological perspective. A baby (the incarnate Creator of the universe) is born to an unwed mother and her fiancé in a backwater town at the edge of the Roman Empire. The birth is met with rejoicing by the local shepherds and a host of angelic visitors, yet three decades later, that same boy would grow up to die as a criminal on a Roman cross. Likewise, that baby’s mother would live to see her husband die and her beloved son tortured and killed at the behest of an angry mob. We give presents to our loved ones today in imitation of the astrologers who traveled from the east bearing gifts for that Hebrew child. But somehow, these aspects of the story are lost amid the twinkling lights and the department store Santa Clauses and songs about chestnuts and red-nosed reindeer. What went wrong?
The story of Christmas is the story of redemption, and at this time of year, people are encouraged to demonstrate the better aspects of human nature. As a result, charities get more donations, the needy are cared for, and people generally tend to be a bit nicer to each other—at least for awhile. For a few individuals, the redemptive aspect of the season lives on throughout the year, and it is their goodness and generosity which makes our society’s materialistic excesses seem even more distasteful.
In retrospect, perhaps it’s not Christmas I dislike as much as it is the noise that drowns out the newborn baby’s cry from the dusty stable in Bethlehem. Perhaps this year will be different. Given the current state of the economy, people don’t seem to have as much money to spend this Yuletide season. This may be bad news for the economy, but in a spiritual sense, maybe it’s a good thing. With fewer gifts to unwrap, people might actually begin to realize what the season is truly all about. I’m sure if Santa were here, he would agree.