Wednesday, December 07, 2005

How we celebrate

If you read The Apprentice's "sevens" post below, you'll notice that she included two of Charles Dickens' books in her list of favourite books. Last night I read her Stave One of A Christmas many times at Christmas do we READ A Christmas Carol instead of watching it? There are all kinds of interesting little things in it that are different, of course, from the movie versions.
"And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!'

The clerk in the tank involuntarily applauded. Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety, he poked the fire, and extinguished the last frail spark for ever.

'Let me hear another sound from you,' said Scrooge, 'and you'll keep your Christmas by losing your situation! You're quite a powerful speaker, sir,' he added, turning to his nephew. 'I wonder you don't go into Parliament.'"
Tuesday nights are also an online chat time for our online homeschool community, and I was reminded this week that there are many different perspectives on Christmas, even within the North American Christian community. Some of us make a deliberate choice to "celebrate the Christian year," following the seasons of Advent, Christmas and so on with influences such as Martha Zimmerman's book of the same title. Others make just as deliberate (and often more difficult) a choice not to celebrate one particular day at all, or at least not to celebrate Christmas Day as Jesus' birthday. A few have chosen another time of year to celebrate, such as the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles in the fall (or in January if you're Ukrainian). And some are kind of in the middle, trying to figure out what fits with their convictions, what reflects their relationship with Jesus and what can or should be left aside. Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, or nothing of that sort at all? Jesse Trees, Christmas Trees, no trees? Lots of presents, three presents (to reflect the three gifts given to Jesus), no presents? Hot chocolate, wine, or carrot juice? Handel, Celtic, Christian-bookstore-pop, Bing Crosby, or even (gasp) Elvis in the CD player?

The one thing we seem to have in common, as Christians seeking to glorify God and raise godly children, is what we don't want: the great-big-shiny-aluminum-Christmas-tree holiday. We don't want the overstuffed, overspent focus on what's under the tree--and then the famous "black hole" of letdown afterwards. We also don't want the equally empty politically-correct holiday that's been wiped clean of any Christian reference. I don't think many of us are making a point of teaching our children songs like "You better watch out, I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town." (Although we may give in to nostalgia and watch some of those so-familiar singing snowmen and grinch stories that many of us grew up with. Don't the Heat Miser's little backup guys still rock?)

And none of this is exactly new. Christians have disagreed for centuries over how to celebrate Christmas, or whether to celebrate it at all; how much pre-Christian tradition or mythology should be included, whether trees are in fact those gold and silver idols mentioned by the prophet, or whether the ancient symbols can be or should be "Christianized." (Does or doesn't the candy cane have religious significance?)

This article by Stephen D. Greydanus gets into an interesting discussion of whether A Christmas Carol promotes a Christian or secular view of Christmas. Some have accused Dickens of actually being a major contributor towards the "happy-holidays" kind of celebration. Greydanus discusses C.S. Lewis's point that the story contains very little mention of Christ; but he also presents G.K. Chesterton's argument that, in fact, Dickens' work is "not a work of Christian imagination, but it is a work profoundly affected by Christian imagination, and the significance of the story's Christian roots becomes more marked the further contemporary culture drifts from those roots. Not only is it essentially a morality tale, and a conversion story at that, but it takes seriously the idea of consequences in the next life for our actions in this life." (That's from the article, not directly from Chesterton.)
Dickens' Christmas spirits may be, as Lewis observed, "of his own invention," yet they are still agents of grace; Chesterton considers them suggestive of "that truly exalted order of angels who are correctly called High Spirits" ("Dickens and Christmas").
I certainly don't have the last word for anyone on how or even whether to celebrate Christmas. We choose to prepare our hearts during Advent, to celebrate in every way we can think of during Christmas (that's twelve days long, by the way (grin)), and to finish off with the Three Kings on Epiphany (and yes, I do know there were probably many more than three, and they weren't necessarily kings). It's something we're still working on--choosing what music, what decorations, what traditions mean the most to us and communicate what we believe the season is about. I'm grateful for the insight of those who have shared very different perspectives on this, and I am rejoicing that our goal, in the end, is the same: to glorify Christ every day.


tootlepip said...

excellently said!

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

I'm glad you said this! I've been thinking of a post something along these lines, and now I can stop hurting my brain trying to figure out how to say what you said better.=)

coffeemamma said...

I was just about to start a post with the very same title! I'll have to think up something original...

And yes, the mini heat misers So Totally Rock! We just watched this Friday (borrowed it from the library). The kids enjoyed it so much, they watched it again yesterday when the grands were babysitting ;-)