Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year! . . .

That song in the title of this post was one of my favorites on Amy Grant's Christmas album--surely one of my life's most favorite, most Christmas-magic-associated albums. I didn't listen to it this year. Maybe that's because my relationship with Christmas has become a bit fraught? 

This year, we stayed home for Christmas. As the Mama of the household, the shopping, the event calendar, and the general festivity were in my hands. I guess they were in my mother's when I was a kid as well. I never realized what a responsibility that is--thanks Mom! Now that Ella and Nora are old enough to appreciate things more than the, ahem, other grownup member of the McCall family, it is fun to make a bit of a fuss about the season. But my husband, a man of true integrity and practicality, is pretty skeptical about the motivation for celebration and definitely about the costs associated with it, and that has kind of been a damper on my Christmas spirit in recent years. Also, it has caused me to reconsider whether all this hullabaloo is worth it. Are we just being sold junk at the height of retail season? Surely none of this actually has to do with Jesus! But with preschoolers, Jingle Bells, reindeer, sugar plum fairies, Christmas lights, gingerbread houses, and Hello Kitty wrapping paper are sooo exciting. 

Then there is his holiness, Saint Nick, to be reckoned with as well! (We have been straight up about this from the beginning with the girls. When I was young, or rather not so young, I was devastated to learn the truth about Santa, and after a few minutes more thought . . . the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as well. We don't want to put them through that and the issues with faith it can lead to. But Ella and Nora both are really working out how to deal with the competing truth claims that they are encountering at preschool . . . thanks Christmas!!) 

This year I wound up in a mental state with a few ideas swirling around pulling chairs out from underneath one another: Christmas is materialistic and insincere; Christmas is magic and fun; then, traditionally (and most importantly, or not?), of course, Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ right? There is that whole school of thought to do with Jesus is the reason for the season, and putting the Christ back in Christmas. Frankly I'm not sure that's such a good idea, though I do see a philosophical association with the shortest amount of daylight in the year and celebrating light in that context. 

 Jesus came as a bright spark starting a blaze of light in a thoroughly dark world. When sin was at its darkest and there was no hope, he came and brought the promise of light returning to illuminate and redeem the whole world eventually. But Jesus born on December 25th with stockings, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, etc? We all know that Christmas was originally a pagan festival appropriated by a newly Christian society. I mean tree ornaments depicting the history of God's redemptive plan for humanity? Christmas tchotchkes of angels and wisemen? Santa Baby and Away in a Manger on the same CD? Why??? It just seems like syncretism. 

Colossians 2:16 is also in that swirl in the back of my mind:

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Don't let anyone judge you about a religious festival . . . Puffed up with idle notions to do with worshipping angels and false humility. . . Disconnected from the Head . . . Submitting to the rules of the world. . .  Maybe we really ought to take the Christ OUT of Christmas, disassociate the two. Christmas could be a fun winter holiday, but lose the pressure of being a spiritual obligation to carry out? We could still praise Jesus for coming and the salvation he secured for us, just like every day of the year, yet also sing nonsense songs about reindeer and pretty songs about snow? Or wait, the end of the passage talks about restraining sensual indulgence, maybe we should ignore the holiday altogether? Yet somehow this feels like turning my back on my Faith. Christmas, you are like a big bully! Probably the most meaning filled song I did listen to this season was from the inspired Sufjan Stephens Christmas collection:

I don't care about family and shopping malls, 
Candycanes, or the carolers, deckin' the halls 
I don't care about what you say, Santa Claus, 
You're a bad brother, breakin' into peoples' garages! 

"You got it wrong, 'cause I'm just another regular guy 
With superpowers and a penchant for the Yuletide 
Is it a crime to give a little, once in a while? 
I travel 'round the world, tryin' to make people smile" 

I hope that you take it to heart, boy 
It's Christmastime, ain't no clownin' around 
And if you think you've got something to prove, boy, 
Santa Claus is comin' to town 

 Seriously. Christmas is such a force. Santa etc., and PRESENTS! I haven't even gotten into presents and the drama of who gets them, how many, how to choose something fun, that will be appreciated, that will not be interpreted as having overly participated in the consumerism of the season, that is approximately equal to what you expect to receive. Oyyy the politics of it all! But not gonna lie, having a husband who is antagonistic toward consumerism and bullies, my stocking was empty on Christmas morning and I was bummed. I knew it would be. I was prepared for it. I lay in bed the night before being grateful from the bottom of my soul for the gifts God has given me: three beautiful, blessedly healthy daughters, a happy marriage, a lovely home and a fun life. Yet at the same time I had to DEAL with the fact that I knew there would be nothing in my stocking. Why can't he just love me enough to go along with it for heavens sake!? Thanks Christmas, for that expectation too. (I did receive from him a lovely pair of leather boots I had been hinting about, and they made my day. More than celebrating the birth of Christ did, sadly. I guess that means he does love me enough to go along with it. Maybe Santa just doesn't . . .)

So, ultimately this year we did some fun winter stuff pictured below. We did exchange gifts, which was super fun, we sent Christmas cards, we made a gingerbread house, we saw the Nutcracker. I felt like it was all completely disassociated in my mind from the birth of Christ, except perhaps listening to some Christmas carols (not the Carpenters' poetic "Logs on the fire . . . fill me with desire . . ." hahaha!). But we didn't even go to church on Christmas eve this year. This really wigged me out for a bit on Christmas eve afternoon, but Paul didn't feel like going, our service was held as a special thing at a church we had never been to before, and our kids were small. I actually had a moment of tearful grace acceptance though that evening when listening to "Come thou fount of every blessing", also on Sufjan Stephens' album, remembering the streams of mercy never ceasing that come to me even if I don't have my kids in matching smocked dresses at church on Christmas Eve. Not to say that it's not important to spend time with your local body of Christ, but I was just kind of in a fight with Christmas this year and didn't want to bring Jesus into it. So he came to me in that song. It was special and I felt very loved. 

All that to say, here are my kids ice skating, wearing smocked dresses, building snowmen and opening presents. Happy Festivus!!

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