The house is a mess, the dishes are undone, I’m all alone. But the stockings are hung with care — on the knobs that hold the stairs — and, for some reason, it feels like Christmas today.
Maybe it’s because today is the first day we’ve had where it is legitimately cold enough to wear a sweat shirt, and thus the first time I can wear any of my clothing that has Christmas themes to it. Or perhaps it’s that familiar feeling of guilt that I always have during Christmas when there is so much still left undone. Or, perhaps it’s because I’ve just come home from a school Christmas production. Munchkin was a mouse in “The Night Before Christmas” (and a very cute one, I might add). I’d prefer to think it was the Christmas mouse idea that makes me feel like it’s Christmas time, rather than guilt or weather . . . .
The school was careful to be politically correct and only sing secular songs: songs like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It’s my opinion that Americans in the USA tend to be more sensitive about the “religion” issue than is warranted. The strength of a multicultural environment is that, living in an international setting, we become knowledgeable about many different traditions. We deliberately honor our friendships with our multicultural friends by learning about each other’s beliefs and traditions. For example, since living in China, I’ve learned more about Diwali, Ramadan, Hanukkah, and Ya Sui (Chinese mid winter festival) than I knew in the USA. Last year, as we strolled along the streets of Guangzhou on the night of Ya Sui, it was so nice when strangers also out strolling in the evening would chime to us, “Merry Christmas!” Christmas was our celebration, not theirs, but they had the courtesy to learn something about it and I appreciated that.
And so it is with some sense of regret that I see the meaningful part of Christmas – my own religious tradition — being blacked out by the fat, felt tip marker of self censorship, depriving young learners of the opportunity to learn about an important world tradition. In the name of political correctness, not only traditional Christmas carols but most of the story that underlies Christmas is erased from minds, memories, and vocabularies. Children who would love to learn about Christmas and what it might stand for, as a matter of natural curiosity about religions of the world, are prevented from acquiring knowledge of a few thousand years worth of western heritage and tradition. My sister told me of standing next to some people in one of the world famous art museums, gazing at one of the world reknowned works of art, and the people had no clue what the painting was about. If they had received any instruction whatsoever in the history of their own culture, they would have known the painting as well as its circumstances. Such is the cost of ignorance: it only takes lack of education in one generation to wipe out centuries of heritage.
Thus whitewashed, gradually being snuffed from the collective memory of society, the holiday becomes as meaningless and utterly commercial as the seven tiny Santas I once saw waving from the a storefront display at a big, Chinese shopping mall – looking as if all they needed to complete the picture was for Snow White to appear there with them, dressed in her matching Christmas suit and handing out discount cards designed to encourage people to buy even more “stuff” — celebrating a giant binge of consumerism at the height of the winter solstice. No wonder the rest of the world thinks that rampant consumption and consumerism is what western culture – and American culture in particular — is all about. Out of fear of causing offense, we utterly fail to communicate the basis for our values, what we hold dear, and the true basis for our traditions. Sometimes, we fail to communicate our heritage even to our own children.
As a parting thought then, I suggest that we celebrate a song of Christmas. Let vibrant voices ring out in the traditional, sacred Christmas carols. Be honest about the Christmas story. It’s not about Santa Claus or Father Christmas. Father Christmas is a spirit of giving, a symbol only of a much deeper, more meaningful gift:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but should have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby, but not just any baby. It represents the birth of hope. This is what we Christians need to show we are excited about: the fact that there is a place for hope and redemption in a world where there is so much pain and brokenness. A true cause for celebration. Forget guilt, forget cold weather. I’m going to be happy right here where I am, and gonna’ put on a little Christmas music, too!