12.25.2010

Confused about Christmas


Not sure where this thought is going, so bear with me. Here we are, on the morning of Christmas, and I still have no idea what to make of this whole holiday thing. Everyone around me has their traditions, some religious and some secular, and I'm still trying to figure out how this works. You would think this would be easier, given that I'm a Bible-believing Christian, and in this country the overwhelming majority of people celebrate the Christian holiday of Christmas. I frown when we Christians complain about how life hard has become for us in these more ecumenical, sensitive, and thoughtful times; it comes off sounding like the sour grapes of someone who is used to getting his way and now has to share with others and acts grumpy and entitled about it.

And yet, what has Christmas in this country become, but a secularized, frenzied, materialistic testament to anything but the baby whose birth the date is supposed to celebrate? Someone asked me earlier this month how things were going so far, and I didn't quite get what she was saying, so she elaborated: "You're a Christian, right? So you're going to do Santa and a tree and gifts, right? So how's all that going?" This thoughtful person was trying to be sensitive about holiday customs, presuming without wanting to be presumptuous about what my particular customs were. But I felt so much dissonance in that moment, for what do Santa and a tree and gifts have to do with being a Christian? We did Santa and a tree and gifts in my childhood, and I did not grow up a Christian. So those things, while they may be part of the typical Christian tradition in this country, do not connote for me what this month is about.

Ever seeking fun and free things to do with the kids, the holiday season has been a bonanza of to-do's, with light shows downtown, special store displays, and what not. But, and maybe again this is the frugal side of me, the gift part of Christmas often leaves me feeling conflicted. Here my kids can't even take care of the toys they have, as evidenced by them leaving them strewn all over the floor instead of in one of the dozens of bins we have provided for them, and now we will be pouring countless more toys upon their heads? Getting a new toy, my kids fawn all over it; two, and they are delirious with happiness. But getting ten just makes them spoiled and ungrateful and cluttered.

Bah humbug, I hear you thinking. Maybe I shouldn't muse so much, and just enjoy what's around me to enjoy, which I understand is a lot. But I guess I am just expressing not a little dissonance in the head this holiday season, and perhaps you are feeling some too. The holidays are hard for many, and I guess this is part of how they're hard for me: I rejoice in the baby whose birth was the ultimate game-changer in this epic battle for souls, but I struggle to see how that event and my acknowledgment of it fits into this thing we call December.

I believe in a faith that is meant to be shared. But it's tricky to know how to share it in an atmosphere in which it is simultaneously the majority opinion on one level, completely co-opted and sanitized and morphed into nothingness on another level, and frowned upon as antithetical to being able to have and respect separate and different beliefs at still another level. Later this morning, our church is sponsoring a service project that I plan to bring my kids to; who knows what date Jesus was born on, and what Christians are to make of December 25th in the United States circa 2010, but hanging out with and helping others in our neighborhood may well be a good habit to build.

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