It is no secret that I have had a certain enmity with Christmas for quite a few years now. As a child, I embraced Christmas as it was given me: Santa Claus, Christmas presents, television specials, and celebrations galore. Funny, the thing most unimportant about Christmas in those years was the fact that it was a time for celebrating the birth of the Christ. Indeed, this was true into my late teens, as I began to grow in faith.
However, as I grew in faith in those years and certainly into my twenties, my view of Christmas gradually became more troubled. I could not reconcile it. I could not reconcile the fact that we embrace shopping, extravagant presents, cliche overplayed songs, gluttony, and the indoctrination of children with a deliberate lie used as a pretense for fueling their own greed. It settled with me as counter to everything Christ represents. Not only that, but all of these things obscure Christ not only for excited children, but for our American society in general.
About four years ago, I finally turned on the whole institution. I took all of the ornaments featuring Santa Claus and kindred characters off of my family’s Christmas tree, as well as other Santas decorating our house, and boxed or hid most of them to the best of my ability (and will occasionally still do, though much less fervently). I otherwise just became an utter humbug. I rejected how society as a whole celebrated Christmas, but what was the alternative? Give up Christmas altogether? That didn’t seem right, if only for the day’s sacred origin. I simply wanted a Christmas more authentic. The extent of a “more authentic” Christmas that I had experienced was listening to Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God album. Here is a guy, I thought, who gets it. An album that tells Christ’s story from the prophecies of the Old Testament to fulfillment in the new in a dressed-down, unglamorous form. This was only one drop of hope, however, in the seemingly overwhelming vacuum of my Christmas experience.
Two years ago, I began really discovering the liturgical tradition. Growing up Baptist, I had spent much of my Christian life a bit suspect of the traditions of “high church” denominations. However, the more I looked into it, the more I discovered how ancient many of the traditions of these churches really are. This was particularly effective to my life as, noting that the old church traditions of many centuries past are what gave us the celebration of Christmas in the first place, so why not look to them as a starting point for how to celebrate Christmas? I therefore decided that the following year I would celebrate Advent, the four weeks of the Church Year leading up to Christmas, for the first time.
Last year was the first time I was able to fully put this into practice. Using an Advent wreath for the first time and using an Advent devotional (the excellent Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, a collection of twenty-five writings from ancient to modern Christian leaders, edited by Nancy Guthrie), I read and participated in Advent. I was also encouraged by the album Advent Songs, created by my church home here in Louisville, Sojourn. Most of all, however, I was encouraged that many other Christians felt the same way. Not only that, but there was a whole moment in the Church to change the way we celebrate Christmas. The people at Advent Conspiracy released this video last year, and really are seeking to make a difference (and, in many ways, have already):
This year, I am working through the four weeks of Advent with weekly scripture readings and devotions from Holy Bible: Mosaic. It has been a great experience so far. This year, I even have friends with me on Sundays for the reading of the Advent scriptures and the lighting of the candles.
Meanwhile, I’m asking for fewer Christmas presents, mostly necessities. I’m also thinking harder about the Christmas presents I’m giving others. This year, they are fewer, and all intentionally Christ-centered items. This taken into account, I’m investing where my heart is and backing the organization I see doing a lot of good in the name of Christmas and Christ himself, Advent Conspiracy.
So what happens from here? For now, Christmas is looking good. Oh, there will be the occasional awkward tension in discussions with people still far too attached to “Christmas as usual.” I know if get married and have kids someday that a Santa-less Christmas will make them different than most of the other children they encounter. However, they will have a Christmas with much more focus on Christ than most people, inside or outside the Church, ever do. That’s not a bad Christmas. Not a bad Christmas at all.