By Stephen B. Bagley
Poor Christmas. It doesn't stand a chance. All the pressure people put on it. New Year’s Eve is about starting over; no one expects anything from it except maybe a kiss at midnight. But Christmas is expected to redeem the year. To make better everything that passed before it, to rewrite our failures and sorrows, and to make all of the setbacks worthwhile.
Poor Christmas. The odds are against it. It has devolved into a shopping frenzy. Retailers place their hopes on Christmas sales each year. “We can get back into the black if the man in red shakes loose enough green.” Not that people don’t notice. There will be at least a million people blogging, preaching, griping, nagging, complaining about how commercial Christmas has become. People will proudly not celebrate it because they want to show their disapproval of this overwhelming greed. Or so they will say.
Or maybe they’re not celebrating Christmas because they’re showing their disapproval of Christianity in general. They will bring up the Crusades and religious wars and The Inquisition or how the church disapproves of their particular unseemly affection for Volkswagens. Not that the ultra-self-righteous don’t attack Christmas, too, because it is based on a pagan holiday, you know, and the Christmas Tree actually is an instrument of the Beast Below and you don’t want to know what a garland really symbolizes, but it’s nothing good.
And let’s not forget how Nativity Scenes offend the delicate sensibilities of some fragile people. In fact, the offended parties must often sue for millions of dollars because seeing just one Nativity Scene in a public building damages their psychological well-being to the point they can’t function and have suicidal thoughts, all because of those shepherds, Wise Men, and angels.
Who doesn't hate Christmas with its get-togethers and parties and all those presents people give us that are just wrong, wrong, wrong and obviously they don’t really know us and don’t care what we like and now we have to return them or re-gift them or finally throw them out with all the other trash? You’d have to be a dolt to like this miserable holiday and all those boring, long elementary school programs it inspires. And there’s the endless, sappy, sad, stupid TV specials and movies where little Jo is dying, but Prancer delivers the life-saving miracle drug just in time for Romeo and Juliet to finally tie the knot and honeymoon in Paris.
We’re all so busy these days. We have important jobs and civic responsibilities, and Christmas means cards to send, presents to buy and wrap, gatherings to plan, people to call, programs to attend, sales to catch, and a thousand and one errands to run. We just don’t have time for a holiday now, much less any of the things that go with it.
Let’s be honest. A lot of us are angry at Christmas. At the miracles never delivered. The presents Santa never brought. The people who leave us or pass away at the holidays. We don’t like our families. We don’t like our lives. We want something better, and we want it at Christmas, and it better deliver or else. If you wish us a ‘Merry Christmas,’ you need to back it up or we’ll let you know exactly how we feel.
Poor Christmas. You could write a book — and hundreds have — about how Christmas became what it is and how it needs to change and why we’re so severely disappointed in it. And it takes the abuse because it must, although it shouldn't surprise us if those Wise Men show how wise they really are and file a class action suit against humanity for our inability to grow up.
Christmas is what it is. It offers presents, trees, elves, Wise Men, stars, sales, family, tinsel, mangers, lights, decorations, food, and much, much more. We turn our noses up at it. It isn't exactly what we want so we refuse everything because we want it our way or the highway. I don’t know why it comes back year after year.
But it does. Right before the changing of the year, it returns. It offers its gifts again and again and again. Unlike all the other holidays, Christmas tries. It attempts to bring out the best of us — and does in soup kitchens and food pantries, with Meals on Wheels and Toys for Tots. Christmas has hope. Kind of silly really to keep believing after all these years that humanity is still worth it when so much evidence points otherwise, but Christmas refuses to learn better. Despite our ingratitude, it keeps offering a message of good will and good cheer, as tired and hokey as that is to our modern ears.
You got to admire its sheer stubbornness. It keeps going. Year after year. Eggnog and fruitcake sustain it in ways science can’t understand. Every year it makes the trek to Bethlehem to a stable carved out of a hillside where a virgin gives birth to a king. All the smart people say it’s a fable or parable or who knows what, but Christmas doesn’t care. Christmas is only interested in that first miracle, the beginning, the chance for the world to start over, the beginning of what was to come, the Redemptive plan for humanity finally in motion.
Always when I think of Christmas, I think of that moment. That expectancy before the event. When the world held its breath. Shepherds and wise men would come later as would angel choirs and a multitude of great and terrible things as time advanced, but not yet.
In that moment, there is only a young frightened man holding the hand of a young frightened woman in a stable in an insignificant village.
The animals rustle in the darkness.
The air is cold.
The sky is clear.
A star is giving forth a river of light.
Then there is the cry of a babe.
And it all begins.
Copyright 2013. Excerpted from My Opinion & Welcome to It! by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without permission from the publisher.