First posted December 2009; edited slightly.
The one thing I've noticed about typical Christmas celebrations is that there are very few typical Christmas celebrations...especially among those whose Christian beliefs have played a larger-than-normal part in how they celebrate. (Think about the irony of that...) Or don't. Sometimes that makes for very surprising variations--devout Christians who don't "do" Christmas at all, or those who celebrate Christmas for fun but don't pretend it's the birth of Jesus, or those who plan the whole thing as a big birthday party for Jesus, or who celebrate the Old Testament holidays in the autumn, or those whose Christmas does center around church but who also include secular customs like Santa and stockings.
And then there are the Charlie Browns who are just tired of the "whole commercial racket," wish the whole thing was over, and take everybody to the beach for Christmas.
I'm thinking about something we saw a bit of on TV once called "Christmas Confidential," about the dreadful holiday excesses and National-Lampoon-style house decorations and inflatable nativity scenes and spangled office-party outfits (makeup to match) and Santa Claus bikinis and church performances with more cast members than a small town and people stampeding at shopping malls and food, food, food...
All that seems kind of far removed from our Crayons' excursion to the thrift shop (everybody got tiny stuffed toys, figurines, and Mama Squirrel got a bell that she's threatening to ring for school time)...or the bead bracelet that Ponytails made me...or the Voskamps' "praying to be a womb for God" around a wooden Nativity spiral...or Bread and Honey's musings on "Pretending to be Mary." Or families who give just one present apiece (because they have ten children), or three presents (because that's what Jesus got), or no presents.
Or from the reality of those who are having very quiet holidays (or barely noticed them) because of family griefs, illnesses and other stresses. Or people who have to work on Christmas or who are exhausted from the last week behind a cash register or a shampoo chair.
The fact that we barely set foot in a shopping mall this past month doesn't make our Christmas any holier than anybody else's. It's an everybody-makes-their-own-choices kind of culture now anyway...and I guess in some ways that's good, it means that the Neighbourhood Decorating Committee isn't going to harass us about our lack of lights, and it means that it's okay to have frozen green beans with Christmas dinner instead of that thing with the french fried onions. Who's going to tell? But I will continue to plug for a non-stupid Christmas.
Whatever that means to you.