My 12th and final post about the joys of the holiday season. I hope you have enjoyed this little series, and thank you for tolerating my penchant for introspection (slash navel-gazing), which gets only more pronounced this time of year.
I’ve been thinking about this post for months. The meaning of Christmas as my favorite holiday has changed in big ways and small for me over the years. When I was a kid, it meant presents, decorations, time off school, and a little bit about baby Jesus. When I got older, it meant favorite traditions, favorite tastes and smells, Christmas music, time off work, the joy of gift-giving, and a story of hope and love through the child-who-was-God Jesus. The spiritual and religious elements were always there in different forms and to different degrees. Some years the spiritual was my main focus, other years it was the food, drink, and presents. (Hey, I was a kid and a selfish teenager — give me a break.)
This year any potential religious meaning is complicated beyond tragedy, thus beyond usefulness or appropriateness. The evangelical rejection of refugees and asylum-seekers is horrifying, cruel, and dissonant. It goes against everything they claim when celebrating the innkeeper who gave (very pregnant) Mary and Joseph a night in his barn. Evangelicals praise the innkeeper’s compassion and openness out of one side of their mouth while denigrating and rejecting flesh-and-blood refugees at the door of our own absurdly wealthy country.
I just cannot bring myself to celebrate with church this year. Frankly, I haven’t for several years.
So I’m not sure what this holiday and this time of year mean for me now. The Christmas holiday itself certainly did not originate in Christian religiosity or spirituality, so I don’t feel like I’m appropriating anything for my own uses. But I know what I’d like the season and day to mean to me.
I want it to mean compassion.
I want it to mean love.
I want it to mean generosity, but a generosity that is rekindled during this time and continually breaks itself open for people throughout the year.
I want it to mean joy, warmth, companionship, tradition.
I want it to mean reflection. A time to introspect on what I believe about Jesus, God, the spiritual, the value of life, the immense responsibility of being in community and relationship with others.
I get to make my own meaning as the years go by, and that comes with its own freedom and mourning. Sometimes I (we?) put too much pressure on ourselves to make things like Christmas “mean” something. We put a lot of obligations on each other, whether of the gift-giving kind or of the liturgical kind. I love the idea of letting the season, the day, the year happen, responding in the moment to what it brings, finding the meaning in those moments that highlight what we deeply care about, the moments that highlight where we get our values and what it means for us to live according to them. And if we can find other people to live those moments with, in love, grace, challenge, and comfort? All the better.
Here’s to a new year full of possibilities for this kind of meaning discovery and relationship. I wish you all of it, and I wish you love.