I’m sitting in a mall listening to Christmas music. It is, of course, that most innocuous sort of Christmas music that is designed not to offend anyone. I call it “Santa Happy Joy Joy” music. It is insipid.
We have a problem. We all love Christmas. Especially commercial interests like malls and retailers who see a huge spike in their sales every December. So we want to celebrate Christmas and the fiscal blessings it brings. But we don’t know what to celebrate. Christmas is, at its core, a religious holiday, which of course makes us uncomfortable as we all try to prevent anyone from feeling left out. So we write Christmas music and Christmas movies and TV shows that feel like they’re about something, but they really aren’t. Like a parade or a fireworks show at Disneyland. It FEELS important. The music SOUNDS like meaningful values are being discussed – like the secret to true joy has been discovered and is now being disseminated and celebrated. It sounds, dare I say, almost religious. But it isn’t. Modern Christmas music and TV shows have nothing to say. Nothing to celebrate. So we celebrate the “holiday spirit” and “good tidings.” We celebrate celebration.
Is it any wonder so many people report feeling depressed at this time of year? Modern Christmas is a sham. A false front. It’s covered with lights and tinsel and holly, but when you open the door and look inside, there’s nothing there.
“There’s FAMILY! Modern Christmas celebrates family!” Sure, many Christmas songs and TV shows seem to conclude that the real joy of the season is the time spent with family. And that might sometimes be the case. But in a fallen world, “family” is fallen, too. Many don’t have families. Many more have families that don’t function – circumstances that make the idea of large family gatherings far from exciting.
My parents split up when I was nine years old, and thereafter the idea of family, for me anyway, was filled with negative emotion. In college friends would ask if I was going to have Christmas with my family. “I’m going to my mom’s,” I’d say, or “I’m going to my dad’s.” But where exactly was my family – that romantic ideal from the Christmas songs and TV shows? I had no clue. It had simply vanished.
So I have a bit of a problem with our nationalized, commercialized, secular Christmas. It’s a joke. The transcendent value it celebrates – family – is as broken as the rest of this fallen world.
But there was a time, not too terribly long ago, when Christmas celebrated something truly transcendent – something that could transcend all of the world’s brokenness. The birth of someone “from beyond.” Beyond our brokenness. Someone who carried within them the ability to make us whole.
And so we wrote songs and we sang them from hearts filled with joy. Real joy. We celebrated a savior. Someone who can make us whole. Who can mend the pieces of a broken world. Someone WORTH celebrating.
So this Christmas, don’t pretend. Don’t pretend joy can be found simply by saying the word over and over. Don’t pretend “merry” is a decoration, like cake frosting, that can be spread liberally across our lives. Don’t pretend peace and deep happiness can be achieved through a perfectly planned and executed family gathering. Because they can’t. Broken, broken, broken. All is broken. Nothing works quite right – even when wrapped in twinkling, low-voltage LED lights.
We need a savior. And 2000 years ago, we got one. So this Christmas, celebrate what really matters.
This sounds like a topic for the podcast!
We should celebrate what really matters – which is possibly why during the first centuries after Jesus the major holiday for Christians was Easter. I don’t think the birth of Christ became a holiday until the 4th century and the December date was chosen more to absorb or redeem existing winter solstice holidays.
I think our modern Christmas is a lot like what the Grinch thought he was taking from the Whos. Fortunately, Christmas, as the Dr. Seuss reminds us doesn’t come from a store, Christmas means a little bit more. Thanks for the reminder
I agree with Mark Mixter: this would be a great podcast. Not sure if you want to get that personal on the podcast. Anytime we delve into some of the negative forces who have made us who we are, it’s never comfortable. But sometimes it can be helpful for folks in similar condition.
Balance is hard, though. As Doug TenNapel (an amazing graphic novelist who happens to be a Christian) tweeted: “Dark is easy. It’s not creative. If I copy what’s around I’m being dark. We have to be creative to make happiness.” How do we tell the whole truth? Because the truth is that the futility and pain we experience is only short term. How do fully express the wonder that we can find in this created world—remnants of Eden, foretaste of heaven—while still acknowledging the horrors that we do face in our cursed world? We creators have a difficult task.
But it’s a good struggle. Keep struggling on. 🙂