Wednesday, December 23, 2009

the thing about Christmas

The movie Christmas Vacation gets it right. No matter how hard we try to have a good old fashioned family Christmas, reality gets in the way of illusion. Clark Griswold, the ever well meaning family man, finds himself tempted by a seductive store clerk, shafted by corporate cutbacks, caught in the middle of squabbles between in-laws, becoming the unwilling benefactor to down and out relatives, and physically endangering himself trying to make the ultimate light show. Yet somehow at the end he finds the true meaning of Christmas.

This "true meaning" thing has eluded me every year. I somehow know what it is, I can feel some kind of longing for it, but yet I never come away from a Christmas holiday with a renewed hope and faith in humanity through the birth of Jesus Christ. And is that not what it is supposed to be all about? New hope for the world from the birth of a child?

Now I'm not one to believe that Christmas was ever a purely Christian holiday. There are so many customs that have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, yet have been with us for ages. That's why I disagree with all the "reason for the season" folks out there who think Nativity scenes should be mandatory in front of every public building, and that the phrase "Happy Holidays" should be banned.

The whole Nativity tradition seems to me...well I hate to snuff out anyone's Christmas lights, but as far as traditions go, it seems so simplistic. So infantile. "And there was sweet Baby Jesus, lying in a manger, and all the angels singing above." We are taught that at an early age, if we experience Sunday school. We are even forced to sing "Away In A Manger" while the congregation coos. Yes, everyone loves the image of a baby.

And that is what it is to me, an image of a baby, an archetype. New hope for a fallen world. Yet, the unanswered question is, why doesn't it ever work? Why does good will only last until New Year's, then we all settle back into neighbor vs. neighbor, Republican vs. Democrat, us vs. them? Why do charitable donations peak around Christmas, then fall off? And why, in the words of John McCutcheon in his powerful song "Christmas in the Trenches", do we "settle back to war"?

Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year...(from one of my favorite Charlie Brown Christmas songs)

We all do need this holiday, or our spirits would sink in these days of darkness and cold. But somehow it always leaves me wanting for more, hoping that one day humanity finally gets it.

Despite all that, I wish everyone a very merry Christmas, a happy holiday, or whatever you celebrate. It's the spirit of celebration that counts. I hope we can all keep that within us the entire year.


rayfamily said...

beautifully put! Thanks for posting!

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Merry Christmas to you and your family Deb. Stay warm and ride out the storm.

Why doesn't it ever work? I don't have the answer to such a difficult question, but I wonder if it's because Christmas isn't just Christmas any more. It's a season that starts in October. It's too much money spent, too much enphasis on preparation, decoration and spending. It's exhausting. To me, the real meaning of Christmas is both simple and profound. God didn't come to save mankind as a superhero, he came as a man, an infant- just like us. Christmas is in the heart- not dictated by trends and ads. It has to be renewed in the heart every day and not just one day a year. That's why it doesn't ever work. We forget Christmas has to be renewed every day.

Deb said...

Ray family- Thank you, and have a very merry Christmas!

Lynne- Thank you. You are so right, Christmas is thrown in our faces as an image, an unrealistic expectation of holiday perfection (like Clark Griswold's fantasy). This is the first Christmas I have really given some thought to the idea of the baby Jesus, why it is so powerful. You're right- Christmas must be renewed in our hearts every day.

And, I indulged in some drive around birding this morning. I was rewarded with a pileated woodpecker, a flock of about 25 snow buntings, a dark morph rough legged hawk, a flock of white winged crossbills, and some pigeons and starlings in Bruno. Can't wait to see you Lynne for the Christmas Bird Count!

Pablo said...

Thanks for your warm wishes. I share you sentiments. I suppose this holiday is corrupted as much by the us vs. them dynamic you pointed out as everything else. My religious scene/tradition must be displayed at city hall at the complete exclusion of everyone else's religious scene/tradition. I don't think any one mythology is going to save us, but a greater recognition of the whole pageant of humanity might.

cherylhotton said...

Merry Christmas to you and your family Deb ! I agree so much with this post . The Christmas's of my childhood would be laughed at and scorned today . Can we ever go back to simpler times without everyone asking " What did you get for Christmas ? " When the answer is nothing what do you say ?
P.S. check your email , I sent you an ecard .

elise said...

Interesting post. I do enjoy Christmas but I'm not a religious person so I don't have that feeling that it should be more about religion. Also, I long ago gave up buying gifts for extended family and friends. I buy/send gifts to my mother and I buy gifts for my children and husband. I really see Christmas as a time to shower my kids with gifts for being great kids all year. I see it as sharing a special family meal at home and a time filled with traditions that the kids look forward to. I guess what makes it nice for me is that I focus only on my kids and husband. I really just cut out anything that doesn't make me happy even if it meant hurting feelings of extended family. Sounds mean but I felt it was unrealistic for them to expect me to drive two hours on Christmas day to be with them. I do spend a lot of money but not more than I can afford. I can remember when I realized that Christmas was turning into an unhappy time and deciding to just change. For me it was a simple as that, yet difficult to do. I hope that you find what works for you. Happy New Year.