Well, it has started. The Xmas season is just about in full swing. There have been Xmas decorations in the stores since mid October, but the full-on media and commercial blitz has started. The first Xmas ad I saw on TV was from Radio Shack, nearly three weeks ago. And if I hear the Hershey's We Wish You a Merry Xmas jingle one more time I am going to scream...it isn't even Thanksgiving yet.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love Christmas. I love the preparatory season of Advent, with its readings full of double meaning. The anticipation of the birth of Christ, and the anticipation of his promised return. I love the stories full of promise. I love the stories of Mary and Joseph in their human doubt, and the angels in their divine comedy. I love the Advent hymnody and anthems from the western European Christian tradition. I particularly love the English and German hymnody, but also newer hymns and carols and anthems from around the world. (I really must replace my tattered copy of Oxford Anthems for Choirs one year...) I love that at last, on Christmas Eve, when the colors change from purple (or blue) to white, when in the deepest darkness of a winter night we sing christus natus est. I love that we put away the Advent wreath and light just one single, white candle, remind ourselves of the already-not-yetness of our celebration, and share a meal at Christ's table. I even love the sometimes mixed up story when there are angels and wise men and shepherds all at the manger at once.
But this is not what faces us in the weeks ahead. No, we face the onslaught of a secular, crass, demanding, commercial Xmas that invades our lives in the weeks before Thanksgiving, and is unrelenting until Christmas Day, when Christmas is just beginning.
The news stories this week have not been about this important (or, formerly important) national holiday when we gathered with family and friends to be grateful for whatever blessings we might have. We have not even heard much of the inaccurate and euro-centric mythology of the Pilgrims. We have not even taken the time remind ourselves that brave people seeking to live in freedom made a scary and dangerous journey to settle in an unknown land, and in doing so, unleashed a genocide on the native inhabitants of this continent.
No, not Thanksgiving...we are in full Xmas mode. Buy this, not that! Your life is incomplete without spending a small fortune on this year's newest gadget or perfume or car! Target and Wal*Mart and other retailers can't wait just a few more hours to open; they'll be open this year at 8 p.m! And imagine the horror; this year's Xmas sales are only going to increase a paltry 4% over last years sales (you can read the full details here...). You haven't decorated your home with pounds of useless and tacky plastic crap (mostly made in China) yet? You're un-American! It's Xmas!!!
This year, as I have for several years, I will not participate in most of Xmas. I will decorate our home, because it makes my husband happy, and I do honestly enjoy the memories that each of the hand-made, or gift, or childhood ornaments bring. I will send out a handful of cards to people I dearly care about. I will attend a couple of parties, because I am a social person and I enjoy them. I will even buy gifts for my loved ones, from as many locally owned businesses as possible, and will give them at Christmas, not Epiphany.
But inside, quietly, I will struggle to not let Xmas overwhelm my celebration of Advent and Christmas and Epiphany and I won't always feel like I've been successful.
I will struggle with resolving the call that Christ has on my life to give away everything that I own to follow him while simultaneously preparing to give and receive gifts I neither truly want nor need; participating in a capitalist system where no-one ever really wins.
I will try very hard not to be a Grinch; to look as if I am enjoying the utter nonsense, the social whirlwind, the secular traditions that have nothing to do with the celebration of the Nativity of Christ.
I will try very hard not to be acerbic about the exhausting orgy of shopping and buying and eating and merrymaking that are the hallmarks of the Xmas season.
I will try very hard not to withdraw even further into myself as the darkness lengthens towards the winter solstice, and the manic forced joy of the season presses in on every side.
I will strive to keep a holy Advent, keeping a part of my heart and mind and soul attentive and waiting, anticipating his promised coming.
I will rejoice on Christmas Day and then sing the carols with abandon.
I will wait and watch as the wise men come weeks afterwards, only then bringing gifts of unimaginable value, and of deepest symbolism.
Will you quietly do the same, with me?