Christmas is the first claim of Christianity — it’s the declaration that the divine actually entered this world, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And the idea is so huge, so weighty, so overwhelming, that everything else we think or feel has to bend to it. It’s an enormous star that suddenly appears in the human galaxy, and its gravity begins drawing every planet into its orbit.
The danger here is that everything can collapse into it. Christmas is so huge it would devour the universe, if it could. It would devour even the Christianity that gives it meaning. And this is what our friends who complain about the commercialization and overindulgence of Christmas rightly see. Without the liturgical calendar of Advent, without the structure of the Christian year, we end up with Christmas catalogues arriving in the mail before Halloween. With secularized silliness like the greeting “Happy Holidays!” With reindeer, and candy canes, and Santas, and everything, anything, but the Christ child.
And yet, we can have the penance of the Advent season. We can have the crèche. We can have the carols of weight and theological substance: Mild he lays his glory by, the Wesleyan carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” reminds us, born that man no more may die.
And if we do have all that, if we locate ourselves within the great Christmas tradition, why can’t we simply enjoy all the rest? I love Christmas, Kathryn. I love the swirl of words in it, like snowflakes through the yellow circle of a streetlight late at night. I love the inflatable reindeer, and the houses insanely covered with lights, and the fruitcakes as heavy as uranium and nearly as radioactive, and the tinny Muzak, and the frenzied shoppers, and all the rest.
I like beautiful things at Christmas better than shoddy commercial junk, because I think it’s easier to see the honor being paid to God in the beautiful and the carefully made. But I love even the most gimcrack trash of the season — because I don’t think people are necessarily far from wisdom even in their greatest foolishness. In our confused and stumbling way, we are honoring God, expressing our love and joy, when we pile onto the season’s mad bonfire all that Christmas silliness.
It’s a festival, a wild, crazy thing, just like what the Middle Ages knew. And if it swirls out from its center in goofy antics and mounds of presents, so what? Know that at its center lies an infant in a cattle shed, and enjoy all the rest of it.