First, I want to start by saying, I’m not slamming Christmas here. And just because I typically use the X spelling, doesn’t mean I’m saying we need to x out Jesus. That’s just an old abbreviation of the Greek. It’s not a bad, nor a disrespectful thing to do, as I was taught growing up. But this has nothing to do with how we spell. For me, philosophically, there has always been something very wrong with Xmas. And, unfortunately, I’m not sure I’m now doing anything to stem that. But here is what I know about what I think Xmas is supposed to be that I don’t see happening anywhere, not really.
First, Xmas is the coming of Christ in the flesh. In the Catholic world we have the fancy understanding of “Incarnational Theology” to describe this. Because we’re Catholic we have fancy understandings of everything. Nonetheless, this is a very carnal experience. Raw, if you will, organic. God has become man. That man is forced to be treated as an animal at his birth. And, the savior of the universe is born in a messy place at a messy time and almost no one noticed it happening. It’s a very normal, hidden and quiet experience. The Magi weren’t there, yet, btw. They somehow got mixed up in the nativity scene but it wasn’t just a week or so later but likely a couple of years. This is why we see King Herod ordering the slaughter of the male children under the age of 2. That’s an aside, but definitely critical to the Epiphany story, but back to the carnal, organic, rawness that should be Xmas.
So how in heaven’s name did we go from the lowly stable to the modern expression of Xmas consumerism? Charlie Brown’s Christmas was always my favorite growing up. It seemed to strike the very nerve that was always unsettled in me as a kid, and remains unsettled in me. We measure the merit of our Xmas celebration with the gifts that our kids want, that we make every effort to buy, going in debt on credit cards and stacking massive mountains of gifts under our tree? And we encourage this by asking, often before Halloween, what it is they want for Xmas.
Our 5-year-old seems to get it. So far, he’s really not been into the gift thing. He’s excited about the date of Xmas. He’s counting down the days and has the 25th circled on the calendar, but it’s not like this is a big deal for him. We’ve tried to pry it out of him only for him to finally say he wanted what his 10-year-old brother wanted, that we already said his brother couldn’t have, in order to give it to him. That’s a beautiful expression of the quiet, but something we quickly lose and something he will likely lose as well in years to come.
I read a lot of Fr, Richard Rohr. His constant drumbeat is about living in the divine presence. If we can understand that now is the time and that what we are waiting for is really available right now, just as Jesus intimates by saying “the kingdom is at hand”, then we might actually be on track. See, we even twist the very simple teaching of Jesus to assume that the “at hand” means, “coming soon”. This is isn’t it at all. I’m even a little miffed at the Church for deciding to implement the Advent season. What are we waiting for? Why do we need to prepare? Can’t we just have all of this right now? Is there really something different coming that isn’t available right now?
My mom was a huge Elvis fan, so of course, beginning about this time of the year there was a lot of Elvis’ Christmas album spinning on the turntable. And in the pops and cracks of the sound that’s uniquely vinyl the baritone croon of Elvis would ask, “Why can’t everyday be like Christmas?” I get the sentiment, I really do. But I think a better question to ask is, why can’t Xmas be like everyday?