Having spent too much time on what Christmas is not, I figured it only fair to take a shot at what Christmas actually is, or should be, or in an ideal world of my own construction would be. Just for reference, as I write this I’m looking out at a view of snow-covered hills, bare trees interspersed with the occasional evergreen, birds who refused to make the drive down to Florida for the winter scurrying about for food, the beginnings of sunrise illuminating the landscape. However, I also remember spending Christmases in subtropical locales, wearing shorts and looking out at palm trees, with bright sunshine and warm weather, and sand and surf nearby. To me, both of these are Christmas, and yet neither is a complete picture.
What makes these settings both Christmas-like is not the Currier and Ives landscape (or, alternatively, the Jimmy Buffett landscape), but the fact that I spend them with loved ones gathered together. Why do we gather at Christmas? In one word, I suppose, that would be because of tradition. Not exclusively religious tradition, but certainly not devoid of it either. Traditions, rituals if you will, are shaped and crafted and re-shaped over time by those who participate in them. Traditions evolve and ebb and flow as the people who celebrate them change and grow. That doesn’t make them any less valuable. Indeed, the fact that traditions and rituals have an inherent capacity for evolving makes them even more potent; it makes them alive.
Christmas is also about light. It is tied to the Winter Solstice, remember? It’s about the light's entry into the dark world, and the darkness’ inability to overcome it (or comprehend it, depending on your particular translation). That doesn’t mean that light overcomes darkness either – it’s not quite that simple. Light and darkness coexist, coming and going, ebbing and flowing. Good and evil reside together in this world. That’s not a call for moral relativism; it’s simply a statement of fact. Light and dark dwell together in each of us.
Christmas is also about gifts. No, don’t worry, I’m not succumbing to the commercialization of Christmas – I almost know that Linus speech by heart. In the Christian tradition, though, Christmas is about the gift of a child, a child that brings hope and peace to a world that is in dire need of all of those. Come to think of it, our current world could do with a good dose of hope and peace. Thus the title of this entry – hopefully some of you got the song reference from the beginning, from the John Lennon song Happy Christmas (War is Over).
Of course, everyone tells you to think of those less fortunate at this time of year, blah blah blah, but I think that too often that can become an excuse to forget about them the rest of the year. When you gather together with your loved ones this season, of course say a prayer or think of those less fortunate than you, but don’t stop with just a prayer. If you haven’t purchased that last gift for someone who’s so hard to buy for because they already have everything, consider a gift to charity in honor of him or her. And while you’re at it, call your Senators and Representative and ask them why Congress wouldn’t approve $50 million in funds for African Union troops who are trying to stop the genocide in Darfur, funds that Secretary of State Rice made an impassioned appeal to have included in the final defense appropriations bill, after Congress stripped it from an earlier foreign aid bill. I don’t know how the vote broke down on party lines, and frankly I don’t much care – funding efforts to stop genocide, led by troops that are actually from the region in question, shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Brava to Secretary Rice for stepping up on this one, and shame on Congress for pork-barreling billions of dollars hither and yon and yet not finding the spare change to combat genocide.
Sorry, that was a bit of a rant. But hey, the “first Christmas” wasn’t all sweetness and light either, remember? Teenage out-of-wedlock pregnancy, oppressive government, baby born out in a stable with a bunch of smelly farm animals…I have to think it wasn’t as pretty and clean and nice as our modern Nativity scenes depict it. Maybe that’s how light enters into the world – not bright and shiny and majestically streaming, but as little flickers here and there, sometimes barely perceptible unless you’re looking for it.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas…and tonight thank God it's them instead of you...