They are all integral to the annual rite of our holiday season. As are the related complaints of offense given by saying “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas” or the opposite offense of saying “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” Of course somewhere there will be a nativity banned or a counter display for Atheists will garner news. We will all have our opinions for Christmas brings out a great deal in us. Lets not forget some poor families will be remembered, when usually they are forgotten. Many will get items they would not have, and the cuisine for the homeless will turn remarkably better. For a month, the poor will be called less fortunate and not what we normally call them. Christmas in America, like all things human, is a mix bag.
Some how it seems strange to believe that pointing out the obvious, the commercialization of Christmas, will somehow turn it into one of our imagination or make it, at least, look more like a Christmas TV special. Like indulging the illusion of pointing out the blue of the sky will somehow make it red. It’s more like if we complain about it, then we can participate with a minimal amount of guilt. We live in a consumer culture and one where Christmas can mean up to 40 percent of the year’s business to most retail shops. We will be shocked at the excess of Black Friday. And in this economy, we also will rooting for big shopping numbers just the same. Yet, we complain. The complaints have been around longer than before my birth and most likely long after I am dust.
As a Christian, a follower of Jesus, what am I to do? Shake my fist at the appropriating of the holiday (all the while pulling out the credit card for presents for my family)? Indulge with the comfort that of course I know better? I have come to believe that the complaining does as much to keep the commercialization of Christmas in place in our own lives, because the complaints are directed to the society or the other, not me. The complaining, like the lights and the anticipation for getting presents and the anxiety of getting presents for others are all just distractions.
I have written before in Praise of Christmas materialism. Christmas should be about the flesh around Christmas time, as we Christians are in fact worshiping when God became flesh. But Christian materialism is based being together and taking care of each other. It is summed up in the two great commandments, love God and neighbor. The most telling words for Christian at Christmas is in John 1.4 “dwelt with” for after the Word became Flesh, the Word (Jesus, God incarnate) dwelt with us. God being with us in skin, bone and blood as a baby, helpless and needing mother’s comfort makes the very act of living Holy. This is a materialism in reality.
This made me think about the nature of consumerized Christmas. The reality is that it’s not a materialism, but a disillusion. I remember as a young boy wanting a deluxe Electric Football Game, you know the one where plastic football payers move on a vibrating metal plate. It looks so cool on the commercials. I did get it on Christmas morning and for all of Christmas day, I was happy. After a few days, the game was boring and I did what most boys did, I experimented with other things to vibrate like dirt, and my sister’s dolls. That became boring, as well. Within a couple of weeks it was in closet. The promise of endless fun was not real. What was real and I keep coming to was moments and rituals of my family. I plan to cook Beef Bourguignon for my in-laws this year, because I want to share space with them and show them I love them. A group of us will serve at Ronald McDonald house and share food with families that have a child in the hospital out of a sense of knowing what means to have a child in the hospital. Joy comes from sharing good and suffering. I will not complain but find moments to look into the eyes of my fellow humans, even if they complain. Because God came to us.
For where everywhere God trends the ground becomes holy, and choice to be with us, and so our lives have been touched by the Grace of Emanuel, which means God with us. So as I watch my son, a 2-year old with dawning of the awareness of Christmas with its wonder lights, I am reminded for the glory of God-loving us in the touch of a new-born. If any thing we, Christians, should pause on the materialism of Christmas. Enjoy the excitement of the children at this time. Taste and see the goodness of the holiday treats. Be with people where ever they may be. If a person is offended by saying “Merry Christmas” I will say Happy Holidays (at least Merry Holidays to shake both of our non-thinking for a while.) I will serve at the Ronald McDonald House, as we do once as month, not as a duty but as gift from God.