A few weeks ago I was joking that I didn’t know how many “War on Christmas” rants I could stomach before something just came unglued in my head. Well, here we are.
First, I should explain. Growing up, Christmas was always one of my favorite holidays. It wasn’t because of the presents. Many people tell stories of the holiday they got that one thing that they’d been wanting. The excitement of decorating the Christmas tree, perhaps. Or the piles of presents and wondering how many were for you. My earliest memories of Christmas don’t involve a lot of presents. Like, the year that we got a dishwasher and a radio for Christmas. I don’t remember our house ever being super decorated, as decorations would cost money we didn’t have. We’d paint the Christmas tree on the window, or pull branches off the pine tree in the back yard. Christmas was a very simple time, but it was the time that no one had to go to school. It was one of few times that my mother was really around all day long. We’d either go spend the holiday with family in Indiana, or grandma and grandpa would come and be around our house to help with our kids all day. There would be days on end of board games and baking, we’d eat cookies all day long and stay up too late. I’d be able to check out as many books from the library as I wanted and read, read, read, read, read.
For me Christmas has always been about celebrating family, not getting crap.
But I look at the holiday these days, and all I see is, “BUY! BUY! BUY!” Christmas is about guilt, when other people buy me things and I’m not in a position to reciprocate. It’s about obligation, when you have to go to parties with people you don’t really like and pretend to like them. It’s about the kids being told 24/7 by the TV and their friends that they should get more, more, more, more, more. In modern days, I often feel, like my brilliant friend Tom, that there are two Christmases. There’s the overwrought holiday of “Christmas” that is emblazoned all over the consumer society, one in which people are torn in a million directions and feel the constant panic of insufficiency. It is the guilt riddled holiday that will never, could never, be what it is made to represent. The house will never be decorated enough, the hostess gifts never chiq enough, the presents never in great enough number, the feeling never true enough, the togetherness never together enough, the spread never going far enough… It is the crowning glory of the symbolism having come to obliterate the meaning. It symbolizes all we crave but can never obtain. And then there is the simple, understated Xmas, in which all of the trappings and glories of the holiday are stripped away, and all that is left is a simple night where people reach out to touch each other, reach out to honor each other, and remember that beneath all of the layers of meaning and argument and need, there is something very simple that needs to be remembered.
See, Christmas was once a sacred holiday. It was the mass of Christ’s birth, the symbol of hope and salvation for a world that was fractured and torn apart. The blending of the pagan societies that Rome enveloped with the ministrations of the Holy Mother Church. It symbolizes the hope of unity, and the celebration, even for a night, that though we all bring our own traditions to the table we can share them in a way that is beautiful.
If we’re honest, it’s not hard to see that consumerism has driven Christ out of Christmas. Christ is overwhelmed by jolly red Santas and reindeer and snowmen and sales ads. Christ, humble as he may be in his manger, is just a dot on the lawn compared to the Christmas lights and fringe and tinsel that make our homes, our lawns, our conspicuous consumption, the real star of the show.
And honestly, I feel that Christ is cheapened by being attached to a holiday that is so full of excess. Isn’t a little sacrilegious to claim that we are doing any of this in his name?
But even so, what I miss from Christmas isn’t the Christ, as he is an ever present fixture in my life and I don’t need a single day to remind me of his presence, it’s the mass. It’s the holy night. It’s the coming together around the dying embers of a fire to keep hope that we will survive to another spring. It’s sitting around the oven with the family, late at night when we’d normally all be in bed, watching my mother baking and realizing that we were still here, we’d weathered the first part of the year and we’d make it through, no matter how bad the times got.
We may not have toys, we may not have stuff, but we survived.
And there is a sacred sweetness in those memories that is just obliterated by the holiday.
There is a simple beauty there that cannot survive in the midst of the profanity of the holiday screaming at me from hundreds of billboards and store fronts, telling me what I need to feel happy.
The reason that Christmas isn’t sacred anymore isn’t about the name, or the “war”, or the whatever. It is that nothing remains sacred once its existence depends on money changing hands, just as sex isn’t sacred when you’re buying it. It’s just a transaction, then, and you can’t transact Christ.
This stupid “war on Christmas” turns Christ into a whore, and it takes the “mass” as well and trades it for consumption, as if it is what storefronts say that dictates the extent to which Jesus belongs to the holiday. At the end of the day, all you are left with is the war.
All you are left with is your own dissatisfaction.
All you are left with is yourself.
All you are left with is the ironic realization that you cannot buy love, and God is love, and you can buy all the symbolism you want- but it will never,
Ever be enough.