As we age, our perceptions and expectations of Christmas — at least the secular Christmas — change. We remember the Christmases of our childhoods, and I attempted to make Christmas magic happen for my children, and that was fun. Then I went through my period of just tolerating Christmas as something we have to do. I realized a lot of other people got to the point of not liking Christmas. Keb Mo has a funny song on his Christmas album titled “Christmas is Annoying”. Around the middle of the 17th century, Puritan leaders in New England made the celebration of Christmas illegal mostly because the feast of Christmas involved a great deal of really bad behavior marked by “mad Mirth and rude Reveling”. Because of the Puritan influence on this particular religious holiday, the United States Congress regularly met on Christmas Day from 1789 to 1855. Public schools met on Christmas Day in Boston until 1870. The first state eventually to declare legal the celebration of Christmas was Alabama, in 1836. One year later, in 1837, Princess Victoria became Queen of England and eventually retained the historic traditions of Christmas. Victoria modeled for the people of the United Kingdom a family-centered celebration. This was a key influence on Christmas in America.
Tom Flynn in The Trouble with Christmas adds this remarkable fact: “[It is] surprising how small a role the churches played in the Victorian revival. From its inception, contemporary Christmas was primarily a secular and commercial holiday. The parsons were as surprised as anyone else when after a century-long hiatus, the pews started filling up again on Christmas morning.” Then Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, and he created a myth devoid of the Gospel narratives. For Dickens, it was the “spirit of Christmas” rather than the Spirit of Christ that captured his attention towards humanitarianism. During Dickens’s day, working on Christmas Day was a normal thing. What A Christmas Carol did was to effectively shame this practice out of use.
So now I enjoy in good conscience all that is good about “Christmas in America”: the twinkling lights, decorating sugar cookies, rewatching A Charlie Brown Christmas, singing along with my favorite Christmas songs. I enjoy them because the grace and goodness of God are not absent from these things. I also remember that the story that “Christmas in America” tells is not to be confused with the Gospel story. We get to celebrate the Gospel story by giving, and giving feels great! Give a generous tip to a friendly customer service worker like a server or hair stylist, buy a homeless person a sandwich and a hot drink, look someone in the eye and smile, volunteer! You can brighten someone’s day and show the love of God. We also get to show love through donating to buy gift cards for Reverend Kelly’s Open Door Christmas party that makes Christmas happen for many families. My Christmas wish is that everyone takes stock and gives thanks for the community that they have — and that everyone reaches out to someone, in some way, who feels like they have no one. And light a candle while singing Silent Night and remember that each of us are a light in the darkness.