There are many great classic Christmas specials I remember growing up. Most of them now are available on DVD or on some form of online streaming. I introduced my own children recently to one of my favorites, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In this particular story, there is a scene in which a distressed Santa Claus makes an announcement to all of his North Pole staff that due to inclement weather, Christmas this year would have to be cancelled. Of course, Rudolph with his nose so bright, saves the day and gets Santa to put his game face back on, but the thought that someone, even of Santa’s caliber, had the authority to cancel such an extraordinary feast sent shivers down my prepubescent spine.
For I knew the fundamentalist Protestant church that I grew up in seemed to have just such an authority. Following examples like the early American Puritans who in fact succeeded in outlawing Christmas for a time, our small Christian sect believed that such holidays should be scorned or at least diminished and that every day should be a holy day in which following the commandments of Christ and living the Gospel were in full force. But in wishing to see all days made special and holy, they succeeded merely in making all of them the same, and in their endless crusade to “remember the reason for the season” and “keep Christ in Christmas”, their drudgery morphed what is normally a joyous and festive season into just another reason to have a Bible Study and a potluck. Christmas trees were banned because they were too pagan, carols were sung only if they had a distinctly Christian message, and the whole celebration of the Word become incarnate was reduced to one more way of selling salvation to lost and dying souls.
And don’t think this is just a problem for the religious right. They have strange bedfellows in the far left who like to bemoan equally the over-commercialization and materialism of the season and make people feel guilty for not using lights that are 99.99% energy efficient. They too wish to diminish the extravagances of the feast, but for different reasons. Recycling is their religion and the outright waste of reams of colorful paper, adorning millions of gifts, only to be ripped apart violently and carted away to Christmas landfills is enough to make them writhe in apoplectic abstinence. Their strange kind of asceticism allows them very little of the true joys of Christmas unless they can justify it all by attaching it to some cause célèbre. Thus, they can only have fun if they are paying someone, somewhere else to offset their carbon footprint.
And yet, Christmas stands unassailed, just as the great Dickens once described it:
I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on their journeys. (Scrooge’s nephew Fred in A Christmas Carol)
Ah, but don’t you see, Fred? That is exactly why it can never be cancelled by your Uncle Scrooge, the Grinch, or anyone else who presumes to have the awful authority: because nothing belonging to it can ever be separated from its sacred name and origin. Jesus is in fact the reason for the season, and the reason for the mistletoe, holly, yuletide, presents, trees, and by God, even the gaudy lights, tinsel, and jolly old carols piped in over the sound system at the mall. Just because we aren’t mentioning God’s name every 5 minutes does not turn our celebration into a pagan orgy, and just because every gift purchased does not donate its proceeds to some starving family in the third world does not turn the whole enterprise of gift-giving into a capitalistic money grab. Certainly, all of the above treated in and of themselves can be turned into idols, but collectively, they have the power, as Dickens says, to open shut-up hearts and cause them to give freely to others.
So as we all approach the Great Feast of God’s Nativity in our frail human flesh, may all that surrounds us now from the kitschy-est light-up baby Jesus to the grandest Alleluia chorus be a resounding note of glory to the Christ who is born that our lives might not be canceled by the grave.