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.