It’s that time of year again: brisk weather, lights, and parties – Merry Christmas! No – Happy Holidays! No – Happy Advent! Whew.
At this time of year, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Read: social media) lectures me about the evils of consumerism, taking Christ out of Christmas, and the ever-earlier Christmas “season.” Often the question is simple: What are we really celebrating this time of year? But I would like to pose an accompanying question: Why are we policing Christmas?
Don’t misunderstand me. On the first Christmas, Jesus was rejected everywhere in Bethlehem. As an adult, He taught us, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mk 10.25). Following Christ, and by extension, truly celebrating His Birth, requires that we “renounce all” that we have (Lk 14.33).
Christmas is simplicity. But is simplicity best practiced in a war on stuff? Sometimes, certainly. Christ chased the money-changers out of the temple with a whip (Jn 2.14-16). However, running from “The god of Christmas Stuff,” let’s not fashion a “god of Christmas Minimalism.”
As writers Brett and Kate McKay observe, minimalism has its faults. Notably it “still makes stuff the focus of your life.” They note, “The materialist concentrates on how to accumulate things, while the minimalist concentrates on how to get rid of those things…ultimately they’re both centering their thoughts on stuff.”
Christ-like poverty is less about the number of items, or lack thereof, we possess and more about what we cherish: Christ or personal comfort. God is capable of all things, even taking a camel through the eye of a needle or a rich man into heaven, but people who have poverty of spirit, regardless of material goods, and “the pure in heart” will “see God” (Mt 5.8).
I, too, recognize the irony in a cultural obsession with the trappings of a holiday and the rejection of its meaning. Notice I wrote “holiday” not “Christmas”? This irony is clearly obvious in the Christmas Activist’s favorite whipping boy, the phrase “Happy Holidays.”
Why “whipping boy”? Well, “Seasons Greetings Wars” can distract from Christ as much as using the phrase does. Again, let me be clear; I do find the intentional obscuring of Christ in Christmas dangerous and often simply inane. “Holiday Trees”? How many holidays involve decorated fir trees?
But looking beyond ideologically-driven political and marketing decisions, we see how silly it is to require a “Merry Christmas.” Christmas is a natural overflow of joy in the reality of the Someone who loves us at our worst and who died so we can become our best. It doesn’t need a tagline!
Consider the recent Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This important feast illuminates the Divinity of Christ by celebrating how His Mother was, from the first moment of her existence, preserved from all sin to be a fitting “Ark of the New Covenant.” Where are the “Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception” campaigns? We must first love Christ to love the conception of His mother. The same is true for Christ’s nativity.
While the words we use have weight and their importance should not be ignored, the words point to the Word made Flesh. Let’s focus on bringing Him to the world first.
As Christians, and particularly as Catholics, we see the expansive, yet misplaced, “Christmas – or ‘Holiday’ – Season” as particularly detrimental. Conflating Advent with Christmas robs us of the beautiful rhythm of seasons given to us in the liturgical calendar. We also miss the true breadth of the Christmas Season as shops and houses lose their finery as early as December 26th.
Nicholas Larkin in his post about Advent here on CBC hones in on this frustration at the beginning of his article, but notice the remedy he offers: joy. Often in an attempt to correct the excesses of Christmas we get what blogger Susanna Spencer terms the “Advent Grumpies” rather than a joyful return to the season.
How do you know if you are becoming the Grinch for the sake of a Truly Authentic Christmas? You take the joy of preparing for The Nativity as call to determine appropriate levels of celebrating – rather than a call for redemption.
So, why are we policing Christmas? I suppose for the same reason I wrote this article: Christmas touches our humanity. The Babe in the manger is God made Man. The excesses and omissions of the season hurt us in a particular way.
Yes, secularism threatens this, but even secularism starts whispering about family and love this time of year. Turn on your radio. How often do typical radio stations croon, “This, this is Christ the King / Whom shepherds watch and angels sing”? May the beauty of this time of year lead us back to Christ, and in charity, may we lead others to Him as well.
Photo Credit: Lisa F. Young