Christmas All Year Round
If we push back the lighted limbs in the forest of fir trees and quieten the carolers gathered outside; if we hold up a hand to delay Father Christmas or freeze Santa Claus stock still on the roof, we can easily remember that Christmas is a religious holiday. There are those who lose themselves in lamentation every festive season in their belief that this fact has been forgotten. They tell us that Santa is nothing more than an anagram for Satan, that the holiness of the occasion has dimmed to nonexistence in the neon glare of commercialism and mall traffic. They even grumble that Christ was actually born in April, thus rendering all this festivity and joy quite ill-placed.
I recently read an essay by a woman I admire, a writer and thinker who often speaks about faith and religion with coherence and a seeking mind. In this article, I was dismayed to read her list of all the reasons she no longer, “does Christmas”. She states, “I don't like -- don't approve, refuse to throw myself into -- the spirit of obligatory gift-giving.” She sites the usual soul-stealing culprits here: the excess, the trivia, Black Friday, Cyber Monday. And though she still recognizes “faint glimmers” of the incarnational heart of Christmas in our 21st century style, she sees it as nothing more than a “distortion of us as a culture…”, concluding that “… I for one am done”.
Well, with all due respect, not so fast. Yes, capitalism co-opted Christmas, years ago. Yes, I find the term “Black Friday” - so widely accepted here in the States as the new moniker for the national Sales-o-Rama occurring on the day after Thanksgiving - frankly repulsive. The focus on expensive, debt-inducing gifts is disturbing and the break-neck pace of holiday activity is exhausting. Which is why I choose not to let those more unsavory aspects of the current culture through my front door.
But oh, I love Christmas. It is with deep happiness and love that I pick up gifts throughout the year for those close to me in happy anticipation of wrapping them up during the festive season. I choose to view the first lights that appear, even those hung a bit too early, as tiny affirmations of the joy that permeates this holy time of year. For those of us who know this joy, to refuse to welcome the season of Christmas with celebration is to concede defeat to a culture that tries at every turn to steal away the beautiful, the unique, and the reverent. I refuse to allow that.
I did not set foot in a mall this season. I did not participate in one-day-sales or early bird specials. Most of the gifts I gave were hand-made, home-baked, or discovered on my travels in tiny shops with creaky floors and foggy windows. The “fiscal health” report on our nation for the holiday season will not include any measurable amount from me. In fact, the favorite gift I gave this year was for to a friend who adores the poet John Keats. Whilst in Hampstead in October, I plucked several perfect leaves from a gnarled old tree in Keats' garden and pressed them into a notebook where they rested until I returned home. I wrapped a embroidered cloth around a board, arranged the leaves in a lovely design, and framed them in an old black forest frame. Leaves from a tree planted in the grounds where Keats once strolled. She loved it.
I don’t mean to be too hard on this lady who has decided to abandon gift-giving along with the other trappings of Christmas. She has also decided, in lieu of more traditional celebration, to give clothing to homeless teens after all, and that is admirable. For myself, however, Christmas is not just a season that resides on the December page of the calendar. It is something that I feel every month of the year. I have my eye on it in March and July; it wafts in the heat of a southern breeze in August and follows me up over a Scottish hillside in September. When the rest of the world registers its presence with carols and lights, I am delighted to celebrate openly for as long as I reasonably can.
A New Year is dawning, with as much uncertainty and mystery as all the others before it. Will we win a prize in April, or break an ankle in May? Will a golden sun shine on us in November? Will the storms of March drive us to distraction? It is the spirit of Christmas that keeps these prospects, these mysteries, from overwhelming my heart. That wonderful seasonal delight and joy stays with me throughout the vagaries of an unknown year. I hope you experience the joy of Christmas throughout this new year as well.
Edward and I will be here,
turned towards the wind with grins on our faces,
ready for anything that comes.