“Christmas is hard for everyone. But it’s particularly hard for people who actually believe in it. . . . In a sense, of course, there’s no better time to be a Christian than the first 25 days of December. But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled.” – Ross Douthat
Though I could do some close quibbling on the opening of Ross Douthat’s Christmas column, I’d rather just say that the broader culture does make it difficult for me to observe Christmas with appropriate reverence. But I don’t mean “difficult” in the sense of suffering; it’s more that I feel like I’m somehow getting it wrong, and should do better next year. In other words, Christmas is difficult to figure out, not difficult to get through. It’s not something I would normally write about, nor is it anything that makes me feel “embattled.” But I can’t speak for everyone.
It is worth noting, however, that the second book Douthat endorses, James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World, argues forcefully that Christian anxiety about American culture is not a sufficient reason for trying to change the culture through politics. Perhaps it’s not too late for this book to work its way into some Evangelical stockings?
Douthat is a columnist, and the op-ed column is a highly constrained form, so I don’t blame him for not managing to convey everything significant about Christmas in fewer than eight hundred words. He made his point (“Christmas is hard”), and here’s the counterpoint: Christmas is awesome. Whatever the difficulties of Christmas, the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is a time when people gather to enjoy good things together. We sing traditional songs, look at shimmering varicolored lights, eat delicious food, and visit old friends. If we can avoid being sentimental consumerists as we do this, so much the better, but let’s not be misanthropes. The season is filled with delights, and it’s nice that some Christmas traditions have been secularized enough that non-Christians can enjoy them too. Even if gratitude for the savior’s incarnation is limited to Christians, the festive spirit is good for all of us.
Anyway, I have a feeling that most Christmas complainers are much Grinchier in theory than in practice. I know I am. This year, I’ve deliverd my share of spiels about the difficulty of distinguishing cultural Christmas from Christian Christmas, but I’ve still had a blast at Christmas concerts and parties — thanks, Christine! — and Advent services have been more than an afterthought.
Peace on earth, goodwill to all.
This is my last post at The League. For whatever reason, I’ve never been productive here, and I think it’s time for me to try my hand at something else. Thanks to everyone who read my posts, left thoughful comments, or linked to my writing. Special thanks (which is better than “regular thanks”) to Erik for putting so much time and effort into the technical side of the site, and to everyone who donated to the site during our fund drives.
Another great thing about Christmas is the high probability that at least one of your favorite bands will release a Christmas song. Let Megafaun’s cover of “I Saw Three Ships” play me out!
(Track generously given away by Home Tapes. I hope they will forgive me for hotlinking!)