Villains despise Christmas. Scrooge found it a poor excuse to pick a man’s pocket. The noise, noise, noise drove the Grinch so mad that he wanted to steal it. The White Witch kept Narnia always winter and never Christmas.
But it’s not just the bad guys. Often those of us who should love Christmas the most are the most disenchanted with it. We sympathize with Charlie Brown and his frustration with people allowing the glitzy and temporal to replace the meaningful and eternal.
Christmas can seem like a dragon, spewing out tinsel and concerned only with hoarding treasure. The levees broke years ago, and now advertisements and holiday paraphernalia flood shopping centers long before Thanksgiving. Under so many red and green billboards, gift giving can feel like an obligation. Constant holiday jingles start to sound like tantrums demanding more, more, more.
I have some friends ready to give up on Christmas. They groan at the first mention of cinnamon spice. They seethe at the commercialization of the Lord’s birth, the secularizing of the Holy Day into just another holiday. “It’s all a business,” they say. “Get back to the reason for the season and stop all this senseless consuming.” I know one person even urging his friends not to buy a single present for anyone this Christmas, unless it’s charity for the poor.
Being tired of greed can infect even the most jolly with a severe case of cynicism. And that’s why I’m suspicious.
I’m suspicious because I’m still too in love with Christmas. Not with the clearance deals or the check-out lines, but with the sprouting of the tannenbaum in department stores and the snowmen painted on diner windows. I admire white lights hung from brittle branches and the colored bulbs trimming window frames. I listen to albums of Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole and my vocabulary is well rounded with lines from George Bailey.
The cynics aren’t stopping any of the materialism; they’re simply missing out on the fun.
Cynicism is bad soil for a good spirit. Accusations against the commercialization of Christmas come from adults tired of corporate consumption and the mass hysteria of mindless shoppers. Sadly, the people clamoring for a rejection of materialism often miss the point by as wide a margin as those fighting with one another in the toy aisle.
To say Christmas is only about consuming is like saying Thanksgiving is only about eating. Gluttony and materialism are repulsive, but thankfulness and generosity are essential and must be encouraged. If you reject materialism, I agree. But if you do so at the expense of buying or giving anything at all, I say that looks more like Scroogism than virtue.
Consuming for the sake of consuming is unfulfilling, but just imagine the way the season would look if we embraced the rally cry of the “anti-materialists.” It would mean a bare floor under cold Christmas lights, or perhaps no lights at all, nothing for kids to run downstairs for, no Christmas wishlist, no brown paper packages tied up with string.
Obviously, celebrating the birth of Jesus should not be about spending. However, rejecting decadence should not mean to embrace the asceticism of Cromwell. For those unfamiliar, I am speaking of Oliver Cromwell, of British political and military infamy. Under his guiding hand in the 1640s, British parliament banned the celebration of Christmas. The Puritan Cromwell found the mirth making and merriment of the holiday too sacrilegious. His restrictions included a ban on minced meat pies and roast goose, carol singing and holly. Fasting and prayer replaced all feasting and revelry. Bah-Humbug to you, too, Ollie.
The incarnation is serious. But just because it is serious does not mean it must be somber. Angels broke out in joyful song and the wise men brought gifts. We should give gifts, too. It is not about flaunting price tags or obligatory gift exchanges. It’s about giving to those you love simply because you love them.
Many people will miss the point of Christmas this year. It does no good if we do, too. Make His season bright. Give gifts to each other in honor of the greatest gift of all. Presents don’t have to be expensive or the latest, shiny thing. The best gifts are often inexpensive but rich in meaning and understanding. Generosity often takes sacrifice of time, money and sometimes a willingness to ford the rushing, tempestuous crowds at the mall.
Cynicism chills the warmest fires and turns diamonds back into lumps of coal, but to give and to be thankful heralds the coming of the King and is the true celebration of the birth of the Messiah.
Seth Rydelnik received his degree from Moody Bible Institute, and hasn't slowed down since. He's currently living in Israel.