Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas is still confusing

So Christmas happened again – did you notice? (I thought I’d written my Christmas post last year, but apparently it was actually at the end of 2012! My goodness, the time is flying by.) Despite the two extra years of thinking about Christmas, I have made little progress towards feeling less confused about the season. Alan seemed to enjoy telling people this year, “Annelise doesn’t believe in Christmas,” which made my mother-in-law sigh as if she couldnt think of anything sadder. I think a better explanation would be, “Annelise doesn’t understand Christmas, and therefore tries hard to ignore it.” 

The heart of the issue is that Christmas is a simultaneous celebration of two very different things: the birth of Jesus, and the arrival of Santa Claus. The “birth of Jesus” Christmas includes Advent, some Christmas carols, and some reflection on the life of Jesus: why is his birth significant? Does/should it change anything about our lives today? The “Santa Claus” Christmas involves Santa, reindeer, trees, decorations, presents, non-Jesus Christmas carols, a roast lunch, pudding and candy canes. (The name of the second Christmas isn’t perfect because not everyone who celebrates this one necessarily includes Santa… Maybe I should have called it “Tree” Christmas, or “Present” Christmas instead. Alas, it’s far too late now.)

I like Jesus Christmas. I get it. It gives the day a purpose that’s far less obvious in Santa Christmas. I’m not a huge fan of most Christmas carols, but I paid attention to the words for the first time in a long time at a carols event we went to recently, and found myself getting teary: it’s big and exciting news! Life-changing news, for Christians. Angels are excited about it! A king is born! People will live forevermore because of Christmas day! To me, it’s obvious that people who follow Jesus think his birthday’s some kind of a deal, possibly even a big one.

I don’t mind Santa Christmas. I like baubles and big lunches and beautifully-wrapped presents as much as the next regular, non-Grinch person. I’ll never be able to bring myself to tell Moses that Santa actually visited our place and left him anything, but I’m happy for Mo to get excited and wave at Santa in each and every shopping centre we visit during December (I’d also have no problem letting Mo have his photo taken with Santa, however Mo’s a bit terrified of him and waving is as close as he’s prepared to get to being friends with Santa at this point). It makes sense to me that people who have no interest in Jesus or his birthday celebrate this kind of Christmas instead.

My problem is when the two Christmases are mushed together as if they’re supposed to make sense combined. Carols concerts that feature songs about both Jesus and Santa. Rushing home from church to open a bazillion presents. I don’t get that! I don’t know how to explain it to Moses (and, in future, Hazel). I want to feel comfortable embracing both Christmases without feeling like my integrity’s at stake! I want to not be Grinchy! I want my mother-in-law to have one less reason to sigh at me! I want someone who’s figured it out to teach me, and then to teach me how to teach Mo (and, in future, Hazel)! Please!

I did have a couple of conversations with Moses about Christmas this year, along these lines:

Me: What’s Christmas about?
Moses: Jesus’ birthday.
Me: So why do people give each other lots of presents?
Moses: I don’t know. Do you know?
Me: No, I don’t know.

One time we talked about how Jesus lived and what he taught us about how to live, and I told him that celebrating his birth and life was the Christmas that made the most sense to me, and just as I was starting to think our chat had gone particularly well, he asked in a very worried voice if that all meant he wouldn’t be getting a Christmas present this year and I had to reassure him that he would. “But Christmas isn’t about us getting presents, is it, buddy?” I said. “Mo?” 

At least it’s a whole year now before I have to think about it again.


  1. I think about this a lot. This is partly why Seumas and I never buy each other Christmas presents. It's one tiny way we can make Christmas a little less about us. But it's not socially acceptable to not give presents to family, so we do buy them some. Not sure what we will do for any children we may have.
    We've gotten away with this our entire marriage without anyone noticing, but my sister finally thought to ask me what Seumas had given me this year, and I had to say nothing. She did not understand. :p

    1. My mother-in-law was the same! We've managed to significantly reduce the number of presents exchanged at family Christmases, although the kids still seem to get gifts from everyone. It's hard when families are made up of those who celebrate one kind of Christmas, those who celebrate the other, and those who celebrate both.