Having trouble getting into the spirit? I’ve lined up a couple of weeks worth of fun holiday pictures I’ve scrounged and stolen from around the internet over the years, some of which I’ve shared before, some I haven’t.
I occasionally indulge myself in “willful preoccupation” by scouring the internet for holiday spirit, particularly in holiday form. One of my favorite Christmas photo themes is “other peoples’ holidays”.
Photo from Micheline on Flickr
I’ve been having a lot of fun with the absurd “War on Christmas” narrative that rises up from the cynical, the indignant, and the cynically indignant, each year. It seems like I just can’t get away from the subject, and here I go again.
You’ll probably be surprised to discover that among the hundreds of blogs I try to follow–out of interest and out of reciprocation–a few of them are religious, spiritual, and/or devotional in tone. I don’t follow everyone who follows me, mind you; if a blog is poorly made, poorly written, offensive, or even annoying, I don’t follow it long. I like to hear voices contrary to my own, perspectives I might not understand otherwise.
What I’ve noticed in reading some of the Christian blogs I follow, and the comments on their posts, is an undercurrent of negativity manifested in a competitiveness based on who can have the most dour and subdued Christmas. The argument often includes a “we celebrate God and we love Jesus EVERY DAY” subtext that hints of wielding their seasonal stoicism as a weapon employed to assert spiritual superiority.
We don’t bake cookies! We don’t listen to Christmas music except for hymns! I told my children that Santa wasn’t real, but that Jesus was.
Was Jesus that big of a sourpuss? I doubt it. On my birthday, my family treats me like I’m a way bigger King of The World than that guy on the Titanic–an entire day of exaggerated honor from the people who love me despite knowing all my imperfections. I kind of think that Christians, who believe Jesus actually was King, Lord, Prince of Peace, etc. and that he was also, unquestionably, unarguably, literally perfect might actually be down with the idea of whooping it up for a month. Seems like the least they could do.
We took home a tree that is easily 6′ around and close to 9′ tall–a massive fraser fir that just fit into our living room after I sawed off 4 inches at the bottom and did a little snipping at the top. It is a little bit ridiculous, but my family knows the routine: we require the biggest tree we can find that fits into the house. I’m fond of saying, “a proper Christmas tree needs to have great presence.” Get it?
This is my philosophy about Christmas in general. Why bake a single batch of 36 sugar cookies when it’s just as easy to bake a double batch? Or a triple batch? Why limit our party to a manageable number, when there are more than 50 people we love that merit invitations. 70 is good–if it gets too crowded, people will leave early–or go out on the porches. Consider the official beverage of Christmas: eggnog. Milk and eggs and sugar–that you mix with booze. If God didn’t want us to whoop it up, he wouldn’t have given us eggnog. That’s in the bible. Look it up.
Christmas isn’t the kind of thing one should approach with reserve, nor the kind of thing you want to be half-assed about. At Christmas, I am ALL-ASSED. All the time.
I’m an atheist, and while that might drive you to think “Ah, there it is,” let me tell you that my kids have known the score since Day 1–we have religious Christmas books, I’ve read to them from St. Luke–just like the preacher did when I was a kid–we set up a manger and have Jesus at the center of the season because, while I may not believe all the supernatural elements of his–er, His–story, it is not only central to our society, but central to my own morality. Whether myth, metaphor, or magic, Jesus was awesome–hanging out with the down and the outcast, turning tables on the capitalists, pissing off the establishment and generally sticking it to the man. I honor that, and lament that our society–especially those droning on about the War On Christmas–conveniently ignore the fact that their milky white savior was actually a brown-skinned badass rebel more likely to get his head cracked open while protesting than he would be hanging around the folks who get worked up over loving the “wrong” people or building walls around our country to keep folks who look like Him out.
Christmas is for celebration, joy, wonder, ecstatic excitement over the birth of a savior–it is about potential, and sharing, and optimism, and hugging friends, and…need I go on? Christmas ain’t Easter–there need be nothing solemn about his holiday, and if we stretch it from Thankgiving to Epiphany, the more the better. It all ought to be a party. It sure is at our house.
And finally, while I may start out with “Happy Holidays” the day before Thanksgiving, I say Merry Christmas more and more the closer we get to Christmas–unless I know it’s going to offend, which is rare. As a Muslim friend of mine said a few years ago, “I don’t mind being wished a Merry Christmas–I still hope to be alive on December 25, and I’d prefer to be merry that day and every day.” Bingo.
I began this essay last season, ultimately publishing the initial portions as a somewhat unrefined draft, but never finishing–so the six or seven of you who read it last year might find the first portions somewhat familiar. For most of you, however, we’re treading on new ground.
My ardent followers and weary friends will certainly attest to my love of most things Christmas, not to mention my enthusiasm for Christmas-themed posts. I wasn’t born this way; it was bred into me by a perversely nostalgic mother and an extended family whose expressions of sentiment were largely reserved for the final episodes of long-running television series (“it’s like they were our friends) and major holidays–Christmas chief among them.
To cut to the quick, I wasn’t the happiest kid. It takes an effort to find a picture of me smiling but each year, when I was young, as the days turned dark and cold, my family’s humble holidays brought moments of magical respite from the rest of the year. It wasn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was better and in endeavoring to make it similarly special for my children I’ve found even greater joy and satisfaction as an adult–so right up front there’s a lesson for you: focus on making some other people happy and it’s likely you’ll get a little good back for yourelf….
Now, to be clear, when I say “Christmas” we are talking about an extended period which began before Thanksgiving and persisted through New Years to Epiphany–the last of those happy “Twelve Days of Christmas”–the very sort of Holiday over-reach that drives Christian extremists nutso. Not that I care what they think.
For many of my generation, “Christmas” began with the arrival of the Sears, Roebuck & Company “Wish Book” and it’s myriad, fantastical possibilities–toys I had never imagined, let alone seen, and mostly likely never would, but of which I could marvel and dream. (all this and a ladies lingerie section, too–the Wishbook was the original internet). Within moments of it’s arrival, I had a ballpoint pen in my hand, circling anything interesting with reckless disregard for reality, or anyone else who might want to read those pages. I never seemed to notice that I would get none of it–the magic was in the dream, not the reality, which was never half as entrancing as the catalog imagery. I mean, all that crap broke by New Years Day, in any case.
The next great holiday milepost was our church’s annual “Hanging of The Greens” night–a massive covered-dish dinner, at which hundreds of people–mostly the older folks and families with young children–gathered and sat at long tables, partaking in the seemingly endless bounty of casseroles, gelatin-based salads, and chewy white rolls. After dinner, the men went to the huge sanctuary to decorate the half dozen or more trees, and arrange the hundreds of poinsettias, wreaths, swags, and bows that turned the church into a festive wonderland–it was truly spell-binding, and it’s disappointing that I have been unable to locate a picture.
While the men scaled ladders and hefted trees, the women cleaned up dinner (ha!) then adjourned, as did the children, to their various Sunday School classrooms to decorate each of the many rooms with craft decorations we had made ourselves. At the end of the evening, everyone gathered in the sanctuary for a small lesson, a few Christmas hymns, and a benediction. I invariably went home exhausted, but excited. Christmas was really on the way.
It’s odd to me now, three decades after my 0scandalous, sin-tainted family–with the adulterous father, the cloying mother, and their no-good, unruly little boy– was quietly marginalized and driven from that church, to recall how warm and inviting those halls were, as familiar as–and far more comfortable and safe–than my own home. I haven’t practiced religion for decades and have no plan to resume any time in the future, but I must admit that my experiences as part of a church community added a richness to the season that I’d never dream of renouncing.
Coming Soon…Part 2: On The First Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Thanksgiving Dinner
Well, I’ve been feeling pretty smug about myself–not quite 3 months into taking this blog seriously, and I’ve managed 50 posts (with a bunch more in queue, in fact) and close to 100 followers (thanks, by the way)–and I could probably scare up some more, except that I realize that at this point most of my followers are folks whose pages I’ve visited and either “liked” or “followed” myself and I don’t feel right just following a blog to get a follower in return. I only follow blogs that I actually enjoy and hope to keep up with.
So, fifty posts. I guess that requires some sort of special post–and not the Tribute To George Dubya Bush I had planned, or even the next 12 Days of Halloween entry (I know, I’m behind…it’s about 7 days to Halloween…deal).
So: Hurray. That’s me. Celebrating. I’m going to go all out and eat a baked potato, too–as a snack. With butter and salt and black pepper, maybe even some sour cream on the skins. Bill and Mary Ann brought us 20 pounds of ridiculously good potatoes from their garden, and they’re off the hook.
I have never used that phrase before. It occurs to me that a lot of kids in the cell phone age probably don’t even know what that means.
It’s not big deal. I found this blog today, and i’m in awe. She just celebrated her 1000th Post, and they’re good posts, too. From London and South Africa and Red Lobster. None of that “helicopter cat” nonsense. We’re talking REAL BLOGGING.
Anyway, thanks for reading. Feel free to send your friends.