From the auditory train wreck that is Miriah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas, Is You” to the cliché ridden Hallmark movies featuring washed up child actors from the 90s and even more predictably unrealistic plot lines than the shows that made them famous in the first place, (I’m looking at you Candice Cameron Bure). The garish decorations and the forced attempt to make just about every expression of love and happiness fit within a false narrative of personal charity and community (re: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” appearing on the Penatatonix Christmas Album; newsflash, it’s a song by a Jewish songwriter about King David and lust not Christmas!). I hate just about everything about Christmas.
As I write this, I’m sitting in Tim Horton’s on Saturday December 21st waiting for the stores to open. The shop where I on plan purchasing a gift for my wife opens at 9:30 and I hope to be the first one in the door. Why? Because the last Saturday before Christmas is the busiest shopping day of the year and I would like to make it home alive, before midnight.
Yes, I still buy gifts. I said I hate just about everything about Christmas, not absolutely everything. I like to buy gifts as an expression of my love and appreciation to the people closest to me, but my list is small, and I rarely spend more than $20.00 on anyone.
The gifts are not what Christmas is about. Everyone knows that, at least they should. Even if our behaviour contradicts what we say about love and togetherness. The average Canadian will spend just over $1000 on gifts this season, buying trinkets for everyone from their dog walker to great uncle Phil who they only see once a year. How on earth can you buy anything meaningful for someone you only see for a few hours once a year? You don’t know that person, you probably have a more intimate connection with the barista at Starbucks, whom you at least see a few times a week.
Charitable giving is up this season too and that’s not a bad thing. Canadians are generous people, 86% of us give to charity, giving on average $450 a year. That’s less than half of what we spend each year on gifts but again, charity isn’t really what Christmas is all about either.
So, what is Christmas about?
Ricky Gervais, an avowed atheist, once wrote a passionately emotional piece on the meaning of Christmas. “It’s when you visit or reminisce about the ones you love. And reflect on how lucky you are.” He went on to talk with deep vulnerability and emotion about his mother and explained that we buy gifts for and spend time with the people we love as an expression of that deep sense of connectedness. A lot of people agreed with him, some going so far as to say that in our modern world Christmas, or as they prefer to call it, “the holidays” needn’t have anything to do with Jesus, it’s just a secular holiday about love and community.
But Ricky Gervais, and most secular Christmas lovers, couldn’t be more wrong and that’s why I say that Christmas music and movies suck and that the decorations are ugly. The true meaning of Christmas is about nothing less than the salvation of the world.
We live in dark times. Our world exists on a backdrop of despair. The dust of our culture is cynical and fatalistic. Just existing in this environment, the in-fighting and vitriol of our culture is impossible to avoid. It settles on us like dust. Efforts to clean up the environment, help the poor, balance the economy or fix the political grid lock are met with resistance from all sides. Any message of hope seems naïve or simply too hard and too late.
Poll after poll shows that just about half of society not only disagrees with but actively resents the other half. Social media has created a world of silos and echo chambers where we go to hear and be heard only but those with whom we agree. Our opinions are bolstered and reinforced by biased commentators and then released out into the world to recruit more like-minded followers. God help the dissenting voices and those who simply want to take a breath and examine more facts before making any decisions.
It is on this backdrop that we are expected to celebrate Christmas. But this watered-down secularized version of “the holidays” is just meaningless drivel. A message of love and joy coming at a time when literally half of our neighbors would gladly wipe the other half off the planet without a second thought is hollow at best; hypocritical and downright blasphemous if you want to know how I really feel about it. True love and hope are absent from our world and the Christmas songs and holiday movies that try to recreate them are nothing more than a clanging gong and a resounding cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13)
The true message of Christmas however is that maybe, just maybe, it’s not too late and maybe it’s not too hard. Last Sunday while speaking at The Meeting House church in Oakville, ON, author and social activist, Danielle Strickland has said that “God’s ability to do things that look too hard and too late is the very definition of hope.”
Christmas and the message of Christianity should be that of a people who do hope.
The apostle Paul, in Romans 12 defines the Christian movement this way:
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.Romans 12:10-16
This is how we do hope. Share, be hospitable, bless even our enemies, feel things in the moment, be with and mindful of others. Do not curse, do not be proud or conceited. And most of all, associate with people whom you view as beneath you or just disagree with.
At the end of the story of the Grinch, when he heard the Whovillians singing, despite that he had stolen all their presents, food and decorations he realized that maybe, just maybe, Christmas “doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas is just a little bit more”
Well Mr. Grinch, Christmas is a whole lot more! I fear for the world if we lose sight of who we are meant to be. Let us not lose hope, let’s do hope.
Merry Christmas – Lauren