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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

simplifying christmas

It seems Christmas season comes earlier every year. It's not even Thanksgiving, and I've already heard the first Christmas song blaring over the speakers at the grocery store.

As a Christian, I love Christmas and everything it means -- God became flesh, became one of us, entered our world to save us from ourselves and enable us to enter God's kingdom.

And yet, every year I dislike the Christmas season and everything it has become in the United States. I'm reaching the point where I want to just go away at the first sign of the "holiday season" and not return until the middle of January.

Christmas ought to be a sacred time, a time to step back from the bustle of the modern world and focus on that silent night two millennia ago.

As a parent I want my son to know why we celebrate Christmas. I don't want him to get the idea that this is the time of year to satisfy all his material wants.

In the past, my wife and I have made a conscious effort to see that -- at least in our home -- Christ is the focus of Christmas. One of my memories from childhood was lighting an advent wreath each week with my family. My wife did not grow up with that tradition, but had heard of it and wanted to make it a part of her family tradition even before we met.

We put up a nativitiy set every year and use it as a prop for telling our son the story of that first Christmas.

We've decided to tell our son the truth about Santa from the beginning. Last year, age three, he was able to grasp effortlessly that gifts from "Santa" were really from his parents or grandparents, and that we do this in honor of a person who lived long ago who really was named "Santa" (essentially). But he also knows that the one we really celebrate at this time of the year is Jesus, who also was born long ago and is both God and human.

We've been stymied somewhat by the grandparents on both sides, who love to give gifts and love to have everyone at their homes (in different towns) for the holidays. I do appreciate them, but honestly I don't think I can stand one more Christmas sitting in a living room full of wrapping paper, wondering whether we really need half of the presents we received and how we are going to fit them in the trunk for the trip home.

I'd rather spend Christmas with my wife and son, lighting the Christ candle on the advent wreath, enacting a nativity set drama, remembering why we call ourselves Christians in the first place.

But the grandparents -- both my parents and Nicki's -- are very persuasive, and they are getting older. Who knows how many more Christmases we will have with them? And they are not going to change. For more than a decade I've been making suggestions to my parents that maybe we could do without so many presents, or have the gift exchange on a different day, to no avail. Nicki's parents insisted last year that we drive into their city some weeks before Christmas to get our son's picture taken with Santa, even though we've told them how we are handling Santa.

Has anyone out there faced this dilemma? What do you do to celebrate Christmas rather than consumermas? What's the secret to letting relatives understand that we want to keep Christmas sacred?

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At 11/15/2007 12:59 AM, Blogger Art said...

I don't know the answer to your questions, Bruce, but I wish I did. I've been struggling with those very same questions and concerns for a bit longer than you - maybe 15 years - and I'm not even close to an answer for myself, much less anyone else. I do know that I have come to have a love/hate relationship with Christmas - I love the sacredness of it but I hate the secularization of it. I want our Christmas back! Good post. Merry Christmas!

At 11/16/2007 8:04 AM, Blogger Fungineer said...

In Canada it's even worse. The Christmas marketing begins on Nov 1. Our Thanksgiving holiday is in October. The marketing calendar is in Thanksgiving mode September to Mid October, with a bit of Halloween overlap. It seems that those who don't get invited to Halloween parties wind up working all night taking down the halloween stock and decorations and putting up the Christmas goods. It's disgusting.
I avoid it.
I love Christmas. I hate being told on November 1st that I need to consume Christmas. For that matter, I hate being told to 'consume' on December 24th, 25th, 26th, etc.

At 11/17/2007 8:15 AM, Blogger Monk-in-Training said...

Clearly the season of preparation (Advent) has been lost in our consumerist culture, and the whole capitalistic orgy is spent on one (at most two) days when Christmas lasts for 12 days!

I think the whole orgy (yes i meant to use that word, it is full of lust and out of control activity) of spending and consumer gluttony that this season has become is FAR FAR FAR more dangerous to the Spiritual content of the season than just about anything secularists could come up with.

How about a Christmas were we don’t spend very much if any money?


Session 1: Take a risk, don’t conform to those in the spending spree. Mary, the unwed mother of Jesus, went against the grain. Think about it.

Session 2: The best gifts come in no packages. The Christmas story is all about flipping the system on its lid.

Session 3: Image is everything? Well, don’t get pegged as a mindless consumer, be a rebel this Christmas.

At 11/21/2007 6:32 PM, Anonymous christine said...

Hi Bruce, this post spoke to me because my husband and I went through the same thing with our two sets of parents when our boys were small. We went back and forth - trading Holiday time with either set until we decided that we needed our own traditions in our own home. You don't get those memories and traditions by running back and forth every year to someone else's house. You have a right to develop how you want Christmas to be for your child and there is nothing wrong with standing firm. We didn't meet with much resistance as everyone understood this. As for the material part; it has taken us years to pare it all down. We now trade names in my extended family. Be patient with your folks but they will understand if you are honest with them. That is my 2.16 cents. Happy thanksgiving.

At 11/22/2007 6:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As parents, you both understand the whole idea behind establishing boundaries. You are already well on your way to getting and keeping your own Christmas traditions into place. That control issue with the grandparents wanting one thing and you and your wife wanting another - at Christmas, the idea is to try to find middle ground so no one becomes unpleasant about it, but in the last analysis, boundaries do help a whole lot in turning Christmas into YOUR family's Christmas and not someone else's. We used to have over fourteen boxes of baubles and decorations and I used to send over 150 Christmas cards, and it gets to a point where you know you need to scale back and recover the original religious significance of the birth of Jesus Christ instead of a glorified occasion to buy stuff. You accomplish this by holding firm to your Faith and focusing on it instead of that "more than you ever wanted to know" commericialism and the "report the foolish sale hours" thing which is now story number one in all the media. Have you noticed how they love to tell you about shoppers standing in line at 3 A.M. as if it were something newsworthy? Is the mall store their new church? Is this the new exodus? So silly. Find your own Golden Mean. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Christmas and about what it really means. Sent to you with heartfelt Christmas wishes from Christopher (64 years old) in South Portland, Maine, U.S.A. I will be sending you positive energies to help you enjoy the Christmas you really want this year... breathe. God will guide you in all of this. It will be one of your best Christmases ever! - C.

At 11/23/2007 4:41 PM, Blogger BruceA said...

Thanks to everyone who has offered their advice and support. I'm beginnig to have real hope that we can simplify the holidays.

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