“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do. If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!” – Mother Goose
The season of Advent is almost upon us. I know this because the number of Facebook posts about materialism and giving meaningful gifts and the ‘reason for the season’ have increased significantly. There has also been a sharp incline in the number of smug banners that encourage you to ‘like’ if you don’t decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving.
I am a Christmas enthusiast, and while I don’t necessarily believe that less-excited people are Scrooges or Grinches or joyless executives from Hallmark holiday movies, I do wish sometime that everyone got as into Christmas as I do. I guess I just don’t know what’s not to love about this season. What other time of the year is rampant with ancient traditions, cookies, cakes, and candy, brightly colored packages, festivity, goofy music, and non-stop sentimental jewelry commercials? (Don’t say Valentines Day, because even though you would be correct, that takes away from the validity of my point – which is, of course, that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.) It’s not just the fatty food and the presents that make Christmas so great, either (though they help). There is something else. Something deeper: an undercurrent of joy that is helped along by the outer trappings of holly and tinsel. What JRR Tolkien referred to as Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
I grew up in a faith tradition (non-denominational evangelical in name; Baptist in practice) that did not observe the church calendar. When I joined a Presbyterian church as a young adult I was slightly amazed to learn that there was such a thing as a church calendar. Advent, Lent, Pentecost…I knew nothing of these rhythmic cycles of plenty and want, grief and joy, abstinence and plenitude. Preparing myself for Christmas involved tearing off construction paper links, shopping, baking, or opening doors on a chocolate calendar. These are all great things, to be sure, and things I still like to do, but do not involve the level of introspection and anticipation I have come to appreciate about the Advent rituals at my church. Lighting the candles, one by one, reading the ancient prophesies, preparing our hearts and minds to receive the gift of Immanuel, God with us.
Really, though, no matter how much you have prepared during Advent, Christmas always seems to burst forward unexpectedly, at the eleventh hour. In the cold gloom of short days, bare trees, and oppressive darkness, the strongest candle is lit. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
I think that’s why it bothers me when people want to make a lesser deal out of Christmas. You cannot remove the extravagance and celebration and excess and festivity from this season without taking away from its core meaning. And for me, the Christmas season is essentially a good catastrophe. A slap on the head of goodness and generosity. It is, to quote Tolkien again, a sudden and miraculous grace, never to be counted on to reoccur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, or sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance. It denies, (in the face of much evidence if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy…
I don’t know about you, but I often need a reminder that there will be no final defeat. That the unseen face of the universe wears a smile, and not a frown. And that is why I start listening to Christmas carols on November 1st; why I get my tree as early as possible and bake ridiculous amounts of cookies; why I spend more than I should on gifts for friends and family. That is why I like cheesy Christmas commercials and revel in vapid movies like ‘the Twelve Dates of Christmas’ (starring a much older and less-blond Mark Paul Gossler) and actually enjoy going to the mall in December. I don’t want to miss a minute of the unbelievable phenomenon of Christmas.
Christmas is coming, people! The goose is getting fat! I’ll be ushering in the season this weekend by drinking a peppermint latte and watching Holiday Inn. And eating a half pound of fudge. ‘Tis the season!
A happy and blessed and excessive Advent season to you all.