The house is simply and beautifully decorated inside and out, the shopping is mostly done, the puzzling over what to buy for whom is over. What's left are those things that wind up not making much of a difference in the end ... that one last stocking stuffer, that extra bag of candy, the batch of cookies I'd wanted to make, the last minute great gift idea.
But when the season begins, earlier and earlier every year, the ever cliched "true meaning of Christmas" always weighs on me. In my mind the true Christ Mass and the western version of Christmas seem worlds apart. The former commemorates the birth of Christ, the starting point of salvation and faith and grace for millions of believers. The latter seems to be an amalgamation of traditions and celebrations throughout history. Linking the two produces a good bit of resentment and confusion in me year after year.
What we celebrate today seems to have become once again what early Christians feared: a continuing celebration of so-called pagan customs among its converts. Instead of forbidding the celebrations among its converts, early Christian leaders took an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude and adopted the merriment and lights from other celebrations. Ironically and sadly, what was perceived then as debauchery and irreverence is now reflected in the consumerism that has come to symbolize Christmas in our culture.
My husband and I are not consumers in the same vein as most of our fellow Americans. We go without so much that most see as necessities ... cable television, multiple cell phones, cell phones that do everything but make coffee, all the so-called luxuries and kitsch that define our culture. We hardly miss these things. So around this time of year, even with forces amassed to cunningly separate us from our money, we find that we've forgotten how to really want anything. Rows of shiny, neat gadgets stare back at us in the stores as we ponder just what they would add to our lives beyond clutter and distraction. In the end, this season seems to be the only time we venture out and judiciously purchase a few nice, new items for ourselves.
Every year, though, I wonder how buying any of these things matches the significance of the greatest gift I've ever been given - the priceless gift that Christians commemorate with the Christ Mass.
My family never did Santa Claus. In fact, we were taught that he was the red devil. And in a way, he seems to embody all that I despise about Christmas - the materialism and expectations. My parents instead kept Christmas simple - three gifts for each of us, from my parents, to signify the gifts of the Magi. Fortunately, my children are still young enough to be oblivious to the season. Danny calls Santa "that man." When Christmas lights and decor started showing up on our street, he called them Halloween lights.
Right now, we don't go to church (no nursery or children's programs at our church) and haven't talked to him much about Jesus. I know that we should start soon but I feel the need to get our story straight. And because I'm so bent on authenticity, that's a difficult task. To me, the gift of Jesus' birth is relevant year round. Why should it suddenly become more important during one month than it is every other day of my life? And why then should we blindly follow cultural cues into the halls of commerce, plastic in hand, to create a magical Christmas experience that pales in comparison to the state of grace in which I live daily thanks to Jesus' gift? These questions trouble me every year.
My poor children may one day remember me as a kill joy. I wonder: what do I tell the kids about Santa? what do I tell the kids about why we celebrate Jesus' birth in December? how do I connect the two? should I connect the two? why would I tell my children a story that I know to not be true (ie Santa Claus)? how will they feel about us when they find out Santa isn't real? how do I explain the story of Jesus - someone who is as real to me as nose on my face, but will inevitably become someone they will have to question themselves in order to know Him better? will they think we lied about both Santa and Jesus?
As usual, more questions than answers and that's okay. For now, it's probably best that we just keep it simple and not put too many ideas in their heads about either story.