Last spring, my husband tried to quit smoking. He knows it’s bad for his health. He knows it costs a lot, and he knows it’s an increasingly unacceptable addiction. After four months, however, he gave up trying and went back to smoking his 10 cigarettes a day.
“I really wanted to quit, but I just like smoking,” he admitted.
This is how I feel about Christmas. I know we’re not doing Christmas the way it should be done, as a religious holy day. It’s expensive and overdone and meaningless to most of society. My life would be improved if I changed this particular celebration, but habits are hard to give up. I asked my best friend, who has two young children, if she would be able to give up the Christmas tree.
“It would be hard,” she said. “I think I could do a smaller tree and keep only the ornaments that have real meaning, like the ones I painted or the ones from my mother. I’d rather give up Santa Claus.”
She tells me her husband would balk at Christmas without Santa Claus. Uh, oh. Every year in mid-December, my husband surprises his grandson with a visit from “Santa.”
“No, I will not give up Santa Claus for my grandson,” Dwayne says. “You had Santa Claus when you were a kid, right?”
“Yes, but I also went to church,” I reply. “And it was a different era. Christmas wasn’t so commercial and un-Christian 30 years ago.”
Although I don’t think we can admit it, we are already at the crossroads regarding the way we celebrate our Christian holy day. It’s akin to being a smoker and wanting to quit: you know the current way is bad for you, that it is expensive and unfulfilling. Once and for all, you decide to take back control. You make the decision to quit and you stick to it, no matter what. You change your habits — drink tea instead of coffee, go to church instead of the office party. You find like-minded people to support you. You don’t give in to pressure from retailers and politicians and spouses to keep things the way they are. You know it is the right thing to do.
One of the reasons for quitting Christmas is the “Blue Christmas” service. Our church had to create a special service to recognize that suffering doesn’t take a break at Christmas. With cards in the stores in October, parades in November and offices planning parties, we are encouraged to forget about suffering by stringing up more lights. But death and illness and financial worry don’t disappear for eight weeks. If our Christian holy day was only one day, and if it focused solely on the celebration of a birth
(limiting gifts to three simple ones, just as Jesus received), we could do away with those eight weeks of holly jolly hell.
I don’t think first-world Christians are capable of this radical rethinking of Christmas. I’m waiting for the day when Santa Claus appears in the Nativity to stuff Jesus’ stocking with cash, cologne and peppermint foot cream. Reclaiming Christmas isn’t as much about giving up a celebration as it is about refocusing on what’s significant to Christians, not to the society at large. We are no longer the dominant culture, and that gives us an opportunity to take back our holy day, to make it holy once again. To make it one day only and to make it a celebration for Christians. Our holy day, our way. The Christian way. The way of hope, joy, peace and love.
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