Hey tipsters (tippies, tiperifics, tiptantulors), here is my tip from Christmas. Now that it’s the middle of January it’s more of a reflection on the past. However, the best time to really think about what Christmas means is probably not two weeks before (or, as my mum said on Christmas Day, “NOT TODAY SARAH!”)
I’m going to take a guess that you feel ambivalent towards Christmas.
I certainly do. Deep, wide-ranging, conflicting ambivalence that is harder to unravel than just getting through the season without asking too many questions. So I don’t.
I struck it lucky in the personality and preferences lottery for this time of year. I love wandering through a supermarket listening to the Beach Boys sing Blue Christmas. I think Christmas decorations are fun and anything can be improved by draping a string of flashing lights over it.
Yet, I feel conflicted by the rampant consumerism of Christmas. I also feel conflicted by the overuse of the cliché ‘rampant consumerism’. I feel confused about the secularisation of a religious holiday – I am less bothered by the secularisation than I am the meaning-vacuum left behind. In practical terms Christmas Day tends to be more about recovering at my mum’s place from a frantic December than a celebration of anything much at all.
I am also ambivalent about Christmas naysayers. There is an abundance of people highlighting all that is wrong with Christmas. I understand the compulsion to express your concerns about the wall-to-wall advertising binge that starts in October. But there also seems something counterintuitive about it – “this-is-a-holiday-about-kindness-and-love-and-you’re-all-crap-and-doing-it-wrong!”
Despite my ambivalence, or perhaps because of it, all I know is that I would rather be topping up the reserves of Christmas cheer than pulling out the plug and letting it drain. So I get into “the Christmas spirit” and give presents and share food and decorate a Christmas tree. I put aside those niggling thoughts and get through to the 26th of December with a smile on my face.
But what if my ambivalence is part of the problem? I’m bothered by the mindless way we plough through this period, and yet my current survival technique is to mindlessly plough through this period.
This year I will strive to unravel some of my ambivalence and cut through the noise. I will ask myself what Christmas means to me and try to celebrate accordingly. An authentic celebration of Christmas will be unique to each one of us – a representation of our histories and our values and the family and friends we celebrate with (or don’t). For some of us it will be bells and whistles, for others quiet reflection. But I think we will instinctively know it when we see it.
In my search for meaning I will do my best to avoid Christmas clichés about “the true meaning of Christmas” (what exactly would that be then?).
I will also be wary of “true meaning of Christmas” clichés about volunteering at soup kitchens (do we even have soup kitchens in Australia?) While I question the advertising and shopping I will also question the imagery I’ve been fed through American movies and Christmas catalogues since the day I was born.
I’m not sure yet what Christmas does mean to me. Although, I heard a great quote last night that struck me might encapsulate the whole thing:
Well, I mean, you know, the longer I work and live the simpler my theology gets. And there’s many, many things I’m willing to entertain and think about and talk about, but fundamentally it still comes back to that God is love. And I mean that pretty literally, that God is, if nothing else, and that’s a big if, but if nothing else, God is that force that drives us to really see each other and to really behold each other and care for each other and respond to each other. And for me, that is actually enough.*
*from the podcast, “Presence in the Wild” with Kate Braestrup, On Being, December 13 2012 (listen to it at http://www.onbeing.org)