Christmas food traditions are just plain weird. For example, roasting chestnuts on an open fire; have you ever tried to do this? They explode. Then there is the French buche de noel, which tastes like the tree it is supposed to look like. Let’s not forget eggnog, which is a lot like drinking paint but is really just milk, cream and raw eggs with a little rum. The rum is it’s only redeeming quality. Christmas cookies in every flavor imaginable, painstakingly decorated, are a lovely gesture for the palate, not so much for the hips. While people complain of being insanely busy, this cookie extravaganza suggests they have entirely too much time on their hands. While there are countless variations on the theme of Christmas dinner, many of them include the bizarre dish, boiled onions. In whose sick mind did it ever occur that boiling little white onions in milk and butter was a good idea? Then there is fruitcake. It is widely rumored that there was a fourth Wise Man who was turned away for bringing one.
I get that the symbolism of light shining in the darkness is big at this time of year, but an outside display that can be seen from Landsat is a little over the top. Combine that with tacky plastic snowmen, the inflatable crèche and Victorian carolers and you have the cultural Christmas mash up that leaves much of the world scratching its collective head.
Christmas music; why is that everybody and their ukulele has to do some version of Silent Night? And what’s up with the Little Drummer Boy? If I spent hours trying to get a baby to sleep and some kid came in with a drum I would brain him on the spot. Of course this year everyone is upset about “Baby, Its Cold Outside.” I like to think of myself as a fairly well informed feminist but since I only have so much outrage to go around, I’ll save it for something else. Then there’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and the “Twelve Pains of Christmas” which is almost as interminable as the original song it parodies. And if I hear “Domenick the Donkey” one more time I may go hunting for the first time in my life. Then there are the more bizarre and less well known (thank God) songs like the South Park parody of Peanuts Christmas specials featuring the song, “Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo.”
Moving on, next in my sights are the weird church traditions, like the Christmas Pageant. In this attempt at a worship service we dress children up with dishtowels on their heads. They look like people we profile the rest of the year. Wise Men from the East bring gold, frankincense and myrrh when a meatloaf, diapers and an offer to baby sit might have been more appreciated. If we take out all the refugees and foreigners from the manger scene we are left with a few jackasses and a camel. It’s worth pondering.
Next are the chrismons. These are Christmas ornaments in the shape of Christian symbols. They can be quite beautiful but my experience is that they are cut out of Styrofoam and decorated with way too much glitter and gold rick rack. Each year they look a little worse and are dragged out to decorate the phony tree put up somewhere in the building because, after all, what’s Christmas without a tree? The fact that the tree is a throwback to pagan celebrations appears to have slipped corporate Christian consciousness.
If we peer beyond the Christmas window dressing we have some hope of redeeming the silliness this holiday has become. Beyond it all, the unshakeable message is that God has not given up on this sorry planet despite what we do to ourselves and each other. There is still a way to symbolically find our way to the manger and in so doing find a new way of life.
The true light that shines in the darkness is not found on our houses but in our hearts. It lights our way when we are lost, shines through us for others to find their way and illuminates a heart that is a reflection of God’s eternal love affair with all things human.
In celebrating the quintessential symbol of vulnerability, a completely dependent child, we see how God hopes to work through us. We need not be perfect, beautiful, strong, or successful. We need not have all our beliefs figured out to be of use to the God who is and is to come in this season. God loves us as the human messed up people we are and works through us just as we are.
This holiday comes around once a year with all its weird and wonderful traditions to remind us that long ago a baby and a very brave family accepted a challenge from the Holy: to live lives of holiness that would change the world and change everyone who followed in that way.
The God of abundance deigns to come to us, not to grant our every wish for the newest gadget or gizmo (that’s Santa Clause), but to burst open the lies and empty promises of worldly things. The abundance is about grace and love, peace and joy. I know it sounds cliché, but that’s the deal of the season. And it’s the best one going.