There are many fine traditions that surround Christmas. From the most pious priest to the most adamant atheist, there’s one tradition that just about everyone seems to get behind: lamenting the appearance of Christmas merchandise in shops during mid-October.
It can be tricky to find Christmas decorations that include Christ!
In fact, just the other day, there were some posts on Facebook telling me that it was a mere 70 days away! I came home later that night and a conversation my housemates were having excitedly turned to plans to host a Christmas carols event at our house for friends and family.
But you know what? This year I’m going to break with tradition and take the glass half-full approach. Admittedly, that’ll be a lot easier to do, having now left the retail-employee life behind for good. I know I’m also very lucky. Memories of Christmas day itself are always extremely positive (other than the odd dispute over a backyard cricket decision), full of family, joy, laughter and food.
I’m looking forward to Christmas, and from such a distance, for the journey there as much as the day itself. As merchandise creeps into shopfronts, and snow-covered, fur-lined depictions of Christmas appear, this mass-produced rendition creates a massive dissonance with what we experience during summertime here in Oceania. In this dissonance, there is a chance for us to catch and hold onto the parts of the narrative that are truly important.
To my mind, the most obvious thing that stands out is the character of Santa Claus. On the evidence available in shops, on TV screens and films, an alien researching Earth from afar would be forgiven for assuming that Christmas is soley about that big man in the sled and his reindeer. Having corrected that alien and told them the true nature of Christmas, how could we then explain Santa Claus?
Traditional depictions of Santa Claus don't make much sense in countries that experience Summer during Christmas!
Of course, we could give the alien a crash-course in the history of St Nicholas, explain how he was given a big red coat and a white beard for a soft drink’s TV ad. Or perhaps, we should think all the way back to those innocent days and explain how that character made us act and feel as young people.
Writing letters to Santa at school, dreaming without limitation of the impossible.
Doing all we could to fight our instinctive self-centredness and be helpful to mum or dad and trying our best not to cause any trouble with our siblings.
The nervous anticipation as we left out milk and cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer.
The mystery when we woke up earlier than any other day that year and saw an empty glass of milk, no cookies and chewed up carrots.
The joy as we played and shared our new toys with our families.
The loving sacrifice our parents made, to have the credit for the presents go to someone else.
If we could re-capture these feelings we had for Santa as children and apply them to Jesus as adults, what would they look like?
A young family appreciates their Christmas morning together.
Would we be able to leave our lives in His control? Would we do all we can for our colleagues, our friends, our families? Would we be hopeful for the future? Would we be content to not have all the answers, and be free from pessimism? Would be grateful for what we receive? Would we be able to share what we have?
As we well know and are often told, Christmas, the coming of Jesus, is a time of pure hope. Yet hope is a paradox; when you are surrounded with it you don’t need it, when it is gone you need it the most. Indeed, in these times of social, political, economic and Church turmoil, let us remember that having hope only begins to make sense in the most hopeless of scenarios and move towards Christmas, hopeful of a future walking alongside Jesus.
Re-capturing a young person's Christmas spirit and awe of mystery will be no easy task, but well worth the reward.