I‘ve noticed a movement afoot among Christians to take back Christmas. No, I’m not talking about the perennial braying over secular America’s “war on Christmas” from those offended by “holiday” trees. (If you want to know what I think about that war on Christmas, read Sojourners’ Jim Wallis’s take on it. That pretty much sums it up for me.)
And I may be overstating to call what I’ve noticed a “movement.” It’s really just a preponderance of blog posts, all by women writers (which is possibly significant), one of whom is me. I and several other writers whose posts I’ve read over the past week aren’t arguing that we need to take Christmas back from secular America. Rather, we’re arguing that we need to take Christmas (and Advent) back from our fellow believers who have perhaps overspiritualized this holy season.
We wonder if all the well-intentioned suggestions to seek the true spiritual meaning of Christmas—to slow down, resist the pull of to-do lists centered on holiday traditions that distract us from the “reason for the season,” shun the cultural emphasis on gift-giving, and seek quiet in which to contemplate God’s gift of the Christ child—might be missing something important about what Christmas is, and the work that so many homemakers do to prepare for it.
We wonder if the traditions that so many bemoan as stressful and wasteful and beside the point are actually utterly appropriate for a holiday that celebrates God’s coming not as an ethereal spirit but as a squalling, hungry, needy newborn with flesh and blood and bone, born in a barn full of stinking, hairy, snuffling animals. Christmas traditions fill bellies, delight the senses, and literally brighten the early-winter darkness. Christmas traditions are about loving other people in tangible ways, in ways they can touch, taste, feel, smell, hear, and see. And isn’t the true meaning of Christmas that God loved the world in the most tangible way possible?
Some of us even wonder if the admonitions to pull back from material Christmas traditions in favor of exploring its spiritual meaning might be a subtle form of sexism, a devaluing of “women’s work,” because it is so often women who spend the first weeks of December baking, shopping, wrapping, decorating, and entertaining (not to mention cleaning up after all of that).
We have been wondering all of this, and more, in a number of blog posts from the past couple of weeks.
- In a guest post on Adam McHugh’s Introverted Church blog, I defended the busy-ness that defines my life pre-Christmas, because I choose every tradition deliberately and take them on with “gladness and singleness of heart.”
- Responding to my post on her Flunking Sainthood blog, Jana Riess wondered if even admirable Christmas-simplication movements such as the Advent Conspiracy are enforcing old stereotypes that “women are flighty shoppers who need a quiet, godly, sober dose of the scriptures to turn their priorities heavenward.”
- Kristine at the Mormon blog Common Consent wrote, “My least favorite part of the season is the well-intentioned (often male) voices urging us to keep our celebration simple, to not ‘overdo,’ to slow down. This message creates yet another impossible double bind for women, who now feel pressure to make a magic, wonder-filled holiday for their families AND make it look easy. It is not easy, and there’s no sense pretending that it could be.” She also points out that God can redeem anything, including mall shopping and gaudy gifts, and that Thoreau was able to have a life-changing spiritual experience at Walden Pond only with the help of his mom, who delivered food and clean laundry daily.
- In a post defending lavish Christmas gift-giving, Amy Julia Becker asked, “…should Christians be heading up the line and proclaiming the ways in which Christmas, in all its over-the-top spending and Santa suits and festivities, is as Christian as it gets?”
I wonder if our voices will be joined by more voices next Christmas, including perhaps some male voices. I wonder if we might realize that all the trappings of Christmas don’t have to be distracting and superficial, but can actually help us to know the incarnate God, and love each other, a little better. And mostly, I wonder what would happen if we Christmas-makers really took the ubiquitous Advent advice to slow down and do less. I wonder if those beseeching us to tend more closely to our souls than our to-do lists this season would miss the scent of balsam wafting through the house, the transformation of suburban streets into festivals of light, the special Christmas Day dinner followed by a platter of homemade cookies, or the delight of watching a child open a gift and hearing him declare, “This is the best Christmas ever!”
I know I would.