I couldn’t resist my chance to join the “Christmas before Thanksgiving” club just as it looks to be losing steam. I celebrate the near universal call to individualize the holidays, but not because I hate Christmas music.
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I was blessed with a grandmother who loved doing crafts and having her many young grandchildren together for stringing popcorn, decorating the tree while singing carols, making gingerbread houses and blanket forts…all the stuff you find hokey by the time you’re 10. By age 6, it became a month long event for me with school concert rehearsals, lights going up on streetlights and houses and at home, a tree decorated three weeks beforehand, with presents gradually accumulating as the time approached. We would have Christmas at home on Christmas Eve, wake up to Santa’s bounty, then hit the road to alternating grandmothers’ houses for a big meal with all the respective aunts, uncles, cousins and guests. What’s not to like?
I started working young and had kids somewhat early so my excitement for Christmas made a natural transition from the joy of receiving to the joy of giving. I knew what Christmas was for but it really didn’t have any great meaning for me beyond my personal experience. I loved the lights, the snow, cookies and candies, family gatherings and of course, presents, both giving and receiving. At 28 I became a single dad of two with a huge lawyer bill and a lot of stress. For a few years a wing and a prayer was all that held me together. Christmas became a financial and emotional burden. Just as my life of prayer was developing, the holiday of my savior’s birth became a real struggle. As life pulled back in focus, Christmas began to be a celebration again and the business of Christmas was mostly back to normal. But several years of raising two kids on a very tight budget, couldn’t help but sour me on the commercial Christmas expanding around the savior I had come to know. The Black Friday Death Race is the culmination of the Santa story; be good, get the stuff you want. Being good of course is relative and society had boiled it down to affording indulgence, getting the stuff you want wasn’t about receiving a gift anymore, but of completing a mission.
There was a bumper sticker that became popular at what seems like the height of the commercial Christmas. When everyone still said “Merry Christmas” without a lot of arguing over “happy holidays” but without much attention to the point of the celebration. “Put the Christ back in Christmas” started showing up everywhere. It wasn’t long after, the big arguments about the political correctness of “Merry Christmas” got out of hand. The kind of unchallenged joy I had as a kid at Christmas was no longer available to the average kid as grade school Christmas pageants and gift exchanges were adapted or abandoned in favor of less controversial, and less meaningful presentations. The innocence of enjoyment without controversy became difficult if not impossible without some sort of social isolation. Everyone knows it is the celebration of Jesus birth, but now rather than a mindless backdrop of a party, it has become a dividing line.
Jesus is the Christ in Christmas, his gift is the greatest gift. It isn’t given to us because we were good. It has nothing to do with getting new stuff. Christ brings a sword and putting him back in Christmas has shown us what that looks like, just as he said it would be. For me Christmas always comes before Thanksgiving, because without Him, there is nothing to be thankful for.