Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas confusion

from here

If someone was to bother asking me how I felt about Christmas, I’d say ambivalent. I feel somewhat guilty about this, being a Christian and all, but I find it hard to marry the Jesus I know with the Christmas we celebrate; I’m not sure how much they’re actually related. This year I’ve had to think more about my feelings towards Christmas because Moses is getting to an age where he’s starting to understand what’s going on, and my husband and I have therefore had to discuss our ideas about what Christmases will look like in our household in future. Moses gets very excited about seeing Santa (he calls him “Horse Man,” as we didn’t give the ‘reindeer’ lesson in time), and waves enthusiastically at each of the many we pass by, but when we talked about what he’d say if Santa asked what he wanted for Christmas, Moses told me he wanted to “dig a big hole.” He’s still working it out, too.

There’s so much about Christmas that doesn’t make much sense to me. I don’t get Santa. Is it okay to lie to kids about where their presents come from? If so, why? Are any other lies okay, or just Santa-related lies? I don’t know. I don’t get the whole tree thing. What does the tree symbolise? Is it just a pretty altar at which to lay our gifts, or does it actually mean something? I don’t know. I don’t get candy canes, and, though I love seeing fairy lights dripping from rooftops, I don’t understand their link with the birth of Jesus. And because Christmas is supposedly a celebration of Jesus birthday, why am I therefore being showered with gift vouchers and soaps and cards? I don’t know. I don’t really like Christmas carols. Like most songs I’ve heard a bazillion times, I don’t think about the words anymore, and I’m over the tunes. Plus, when you do pay attention to the words, they’re not always super clear:

Christ by highest heavn adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin
s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!

It’s hard to translate verses like these to modern English when the singers are already onto the chorus again. What does the line ‘Away in a manger’ mean? And if cattle were lowing, then was it really a Silent Night? AND if Jesus was indeed fully human, then he probably cried at least once. (I reckon Mary would have shed a few tears, too: “Really, God? In a barn?!”) Why do we insist on singing songs with annoying tunes and lyrics that people can’t easily understand, year after year after year after year? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

Yesterday as the woman at the supermarket scanned my groceries, she asked, “So, have you finished all of your Christmas shopping yet?” and I had to tell her that I didn’t really have any Christmas shopping to do. She gave me a look that said, “What kind of a person doesn’t have Christmas shopping to do?!” and I replied with a look that tried to say, ”I guess it sounds weird, but Jesus is important to me every day of the year, and I don’t really know how he’d feel about the extravagant way we celebrate his birthday; I’m still figuring out what all the food and presents and busyness have to do with God fulfilling centuries of prophecy by arriving among us as a newborn – humbled and bloody and tiny and vulnerable, in a barn in the middle of nowhere – to repair the relationship that was broken way back in Eden (when created told Creator, ‘I don’t really want You in my life!’); Jesus shows up and grows up and, unlike us, clings to God, living in perfect harmony and oneness with the Creator and with others, thereby making it possible through his sacrificial death and hope-inspiring resurrection for us to do the same!”

But I don’t know that I got my eyebrows completely right and she went back to concentrating on her cash register before I’d finished my silent explanation.

I’m pretty sure it’s a mini Christmas each time the nativity story pops up in our cycle of bedtime Bible readings with our son, and every time we pause and remember the full gospel, starting from Genesis, rather than one that only includes Jesus’ death and resurrection. And so I’m still not entirely sure how to do Decembers, and which traditions – if any – our little family should embrace and which we should discard. Our celebrations may change over time as we figure out more and more what it means to live out our faith in this time and place, and as Moses gets old enough to join in the discussions. I hope so. Until then, I shall remain ambivalent, although I sincerely hope that your Christmas is a blessed one, full of love and fellowship and other similarly beautiful gifts from God.

My friend made this sweet little video, which is one Christmas-related thing I’ve found myself loving this year:


  1. I know what you mean - I think Christmas can be a particularly confusing celebration for Christians, because unlike Easter it's not a fully Christian celebration (I know Easter has pagan elements too but not to the same extent as Christmas, and it doesn't come with the whole consumerist thing). If you've got time, this is a really interesting article on the history of Christmas: My solution is to try and hold it all a bit lightly - take the religious stuff seriously, give gifts out of a Christian spirit of generosity (i.e. think about giving rather than receiving) and let the rest just flow over me. But then I don't have a small child who I have to explain all these rather confusing and contradictory traditions to!

    1. My one major frustration is with Christmas stuff appearing in September (and Easter stuff in Jan) it totally misses the wonderful seasons of anticipation and preparation. (Advent and Lent respectively) which to me are a hugely important time of prayer and reflection. I find following the church calendar in that respect does help to keep some of the mindless consumerist madness at bay and helps me remember the real reason for the season!