I have referred to being “rage-y” before. Anyone who has ever talked with me knows this is a real thing.
A few things about Christmas make me rage-y.
- Making Advent 24 days long. Whatevs. For my non-Christian-nerd readers, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, which means Advent varies in length.
- Removing all Christmas décor a couple days after Christmas and way before Epiphany (January 6th), when it is still technically Christmas (12 days! Of Christmas!).
- People who call that thing people do when they say “Happy Holidays” “the war on Christmas.” Could you please apply that energy to ending economic inequality? Or nuclear proliferation?
- The emphasis on rampant consumerism, and self-gifting. I’m pretty sure a teenage girl didn’t get pregnant out of wedlock and give birth to the baby we know as God’s son to bring peace to all the world just so I could get that flat-screen TV for myself.
- Secular Christmas music focusing on consumption, especially the songs that sexualize Santa Claus. GROSS.
- Trying to enforce happiness on everyone. Seriously. Any therapist worth her or his $110/session fee will tell you that you can’t make other people happy. Any pastor or other professional involved in caring for people worth her or his salt will tell you the holidays aren’t happy for everyone. It has become an incredibly dishonest holiday. This is so blown out of proportion that churches have special services to help people grieve during Advent.
- People with pious pro-life bumper stickers or “I love Jesus” vanity plates on their cars driving like, well, like a**holes through mall parking lots.
When I have blown off a little steam and am less rage-y, I remember there is more to Advent and Christmas than a list of “true” Christian behaviors and beliefs.
Celebrating Thanksgiving weekend through December 25th as Christmas happens in part because it has become cultural, not just religious. People who are not practicing Christians still find meaning in this holiday because of the emphasis on giving and family. There just aren’t many options for people who aren’t Christians to continue with their usual lives on December 24th and 25th, anyway. My dad’s secular Jewish family celebrated Christmas as well as Hanukkah. My Buddhist relatives celebrate Christmas, and some decorate a ficus tree because that is what Siddhartha Gautama (the Gautama Buddha) was sitting under when he achieved enlightenment.
My parents never let us get an Advent calendar involving chocolate. Ours were strictly Bible-verse-only. That way we were built up to anticipate not just Santa, but the day celebrating the birth of Jesus. That was a choice, and many parents will choose differently. Of course, the historical Jesus wasn’t likely born in December. Biblical scholars tell us that all the events in Luke or Matthew did not happen over the course of one or two nights, but a few years. But more important than the facts or the historicity of the claims is the sense of mystery and deep truth at the incredible gift that is Jesus to the world. God enfleshed as a baby. One came who would teach us the most faithful response to God’s love that the world has seen (according to Christians, that is).
There is being a Christian during Christmas the way I often practice it. I avoid malls at all costs, until that moment when I really do need to buy gifts for nieces and grandparents. I call Advent by its proper name. I keep decorations up through Epiphany, in part because it’s Christmas that whole time, and also because my household celebrates Three Kings Day. I refuse to listen to most secular Christmas music. I won’t listen to Christmas music until Advent begins. I denounce the consumer mentality, even while I purchase gifts.
I do not think my way is the best way, or even the most faithful.
Being a Christian during Christmas isn’t just a rigid adherence to the Christian-only traditions of Advent and Christmas. There is perhaps no such thing. Every culture has its own way of expressing these Christian traditions. Being a Christian during Christmas may be letting this be what it is. There is wonder and joy, whether it is about the baby Jesus, or about the ridiculous amount of stuff under the tree, or the parties we attend. There is plenty of pain, for those missing family and friends who are no longer with us, or those who have difficult family relationships, or those who can’t afford to have the shiny Christmas that television shows us is supposedly the norm. Our presence as Christians, realistic and hopeful, loving and generous, sometimes overeating and sometimes over-gifting, gracious and patient, working for a better world for all people, may be the best thing Christians can do. After all, what would baby Jesus do?
Resources for Advent:
A downloadable study for adults
A downloadable study for youth
Being Reformed curriculum
A lovely Christmas book of stories:
By Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia
Her husband is a Presbyterian minister, and she has written these stories for his congregations over the years.