Christmas - friend or foe foe foe?
My Why audio version of this blog available here.
Christmas has landed in the Sandys household and as soon as December arrived I was nagging Chris for us to get a tree, so I can enjoy the pretty lights around the house. In Episode 11 of The Silent Why next week we actually discuss Chris’ loss of Christmas excitement in a house without our own children, and the need to find other ways to make Christmas exciting instead of just sad, and something we haven’t fully mastered yet.
It’s a time of the year that I think I now welcome with equal joy and dread. So at least it’s balanced. The problem is that I find the bad and sad side of it comes to find me, and the joyful, pretty side of Christmas I have to go and seek out myself. Like the wise men looking for the star (although there’s less wise and more mince pies about me at the moment).
Sadly Christmas is often a milestone in the world of loss, a painful reminder, a lonely time, a time to be conscious of all you have but even more so, all you don’t have, or of years gone by, anniversaries, a time that highlights those missing, those ill and those without the seemingly perfect family unit. Sometimes I feel like Christmas feels as much about lonely as it does love, as much about tension as it does tinsel, as much about sad musings as it does about glad tidings.
Can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? C. S. Lewis
Yet I don’t want it to just be that way. I feel we deserve some cheer and enjoyment, and space to process life before a new year, instead of being crowded by thoughts of how to please other people with your presents, or your presence (the different spelling of those works better on the blog!).
So I’m on a mission - a missionmas, if you will. To find a way to make Christmas my friend, I want to see him coming over the hill of November and smile, not feel my stomach drop. To not just let all the kids, Santa, the elves and crazy happy people have it as their fun time, I want a piece of it too.
I figure we all have at least one thing we love about Christmas, right?
So right now, think of one thing you love about Christmas.
You didn’t do it did you? Don’t be a scrooge. Say it outloud.
With me after three, 1, 2, 3…
See. Wasn’t so difficult.
After all, do we need more than one thing to love a season? People love pancake day.
So, what’s stopping you just going crazy with the one thing you love? If you love mince pies, buy all the different versions, stock up, hold a mince pie party (within Covid regulations!), have one after every meal for a month, paint one, wear one, throw one, grow one, sing about one. Get a jumper with a giant mince pie on the front and brandish your love to all - heck - knit one if you have to!
Maybe you like the lights? Cover your house in them, make others smile, be the house that people walk their children to see. Cover your car in them! Here’s a car I saw in the supermarket car park this week:
Or maybe you’re a bit more traditional and you love the original story of the nativity? The sheep-chic birth of Jesus, the tea-towel Shepherds being scared witless by an army of tinsel angels in the sky, the wise men bringing gifts that represent a lot but might have been a right pain for Mary to carry on her escape to Egypt (what did she even do with that block of gold?). Why not go to all the carol services, play carols around the house, put up a nativity scene, read the original story, share its message of hope with others and give them something other than mince pies to eat and wear.
I believe we can make Christmas our friend, but like all friendships it’s impossible to force unless it’s a two-way relationship. You can learn to love it, and find things about it to enjoy, but you need to believe that Christmas wants to give back to you as well, and that’s where I think we’ve lost our way and our friendship with the season.
It’s easy to throw the good of Christmas away with the commercial stuff if we’re not careful. And I believe, to find the good in it, you have to go back to the original meaning and reason for the season.
So, what do you see when you look at the Nativity scene? A happy family? The baby you couldn’t have? The partner you never met? The partner you had but lost? The smooth perfect evening of a new birth under a bright sky full of stars? Rich presents given in celebration of the new arrival? Fluffy lambs and smiling cows, that never poop, standing around watching quietly? Carols softly playing in the background? The perfect, happy family unit that no one really has but somehow almost everyone secretly wants?
Well I’ve been around this story all my life and I’ll tell you what I see. A baby, born in a rough old cave far from home. To young parents trying to cope alone while people were gossiping and spreading rumours about how Mary got pregnant. A scared young mother with no birthing pool options, anaesthetic, or midwife to ease her pains. The smell of animals and dirty floors in Mary’s nostrils. No hot water and towels to clean her or the baby up afterwards. A trough used to feed cows as the only option for a crib. No fancy mobile and temperature monitoring camera to see if the baby was too cold or too hot. No grandparents to visit and help with the chores, just a few Shepherds (seen as criminals back then) who came to see the baby because they had been told by ‘angels’. No option for Mary to name her baby - that had been done for her. Herod seeking to kill their baby and forcing them to flee as refugees to another country. A mother who knew the Scriptures and would have been aware the Messiah she carried was coming to earth as a sacrifice for all the bad stuff the rest of us have done (yes that includes plastic pollution), so he would need to die to complete that sacrifice. A prophecy over her baby at the temple which includes the words to her ‘a sword will pierce your very soul’, looking towards her watching her son die in his early thirties.
There’s nothing fancy about this story, no trumpets announce Jesus’ birth, no clean sheeted palace prepared Him a bed. And this baby was the Son of God sent for one reason - to save a weary world from everything it had got wrong.
The word ‘nativity’ means ‘the occasion of someone’s birth’, and whether you believe this is the only birth in history that truly matters, or whether it’s just symbolic for you, there’s a lot to take from it that can bring us comfort if we struggle with Christmas, because Christmas was never supposed to be about all we make it about now.
It is supposed to be about glad tidings, good news, God with us, hope for humanity, joy for the joyless.
Weirdly enough it’s all the bad and sad stuff I see in the Christmas story that makes me see Christmas as friend, and not a foe, because it gives to us the hope, joy and peace that we are all ultimately looking for. Who could honestly say they’d dislike a season that gave you unadulterated peace about the past, joy for the present and hope for the future? Wouldn’t you just skip towards that every year for your annual booster?
Through the Christmas story I see; strength, endurance, perseverance, love, loyalty, grace, generosity, faith, joy, comfort, sacrifice…
Who wouldn’t want that from or in a friend?
Of course, like every friendship, the path doesn’t run smooth and when you don’t hear from a friend for a year you can begin to believe they’ve forgotten you and aren’t fully committed to the relationship. So maybe, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, we need to tuck Christmas away into our heart and keep it all the year round. I have a star in my lounge that a talented friend of mine made, and I keep it out all year because the words (from the carol ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’) speak to me all year round:
Still through the cloven skies they come with peaceful wings unfurled and still their heavenly music floats o’er all the weary world. Edmund Sears
I think we have lost the true celebration of Christmas, that it used to be. I say that because of reading quotes like these, from a man, almost as synonymous with Christmas as Jesus, Charles Dickens, famous for writing ‘A Christmas Carol’. These are his words as he described the holidays:
...a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. Charles Dickens, Christmas Books
So my missionmas is to reunite people with their friend, Christmas. Yes, it’s not easy, I don’t find the season fully enjoyable, yet I’m working on it and I don’t want grief and loss to win on this one. I want my share of the Christmas joy, and I’m not anticipating that will be easy, there’s a lot of expectations on people at Christmas to be a certain way, speak to certain people, buy a certain gift, but I’m deciding that I can’t enjoy a Christmas that someone else is choosing for me. I can only enjoy it when I shape it with my husband and find where we get our Christmas joy from, and to anyone who thinks that should be different, I may utter the other famous words from Dickens - Bah Humbug!
I’m going to finish with one of the original descriptions of exactly what happened at Christmas from The Message Bible, an account by someone who knew Jesus himself, and I hope it blesses you with a new perspective of what’s on offer from your old friend, Christmas:
Everything was created through Him; nothing—not one thing!— came into being without Him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out... The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life He brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through Him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want Him. But whoever did want Him, who believed He was who He claimed and would do what He said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten. The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John 1, The Message Bible