Saturday, December 26, 2009

Schizophrenic Holiday Needs Separation

Christmas is a two-headed monster that doesn't think it is. The concerned observer can, however, witness at least two personalities at play that do not really acknowledge one another, yet occupy the same holiday. From one "personality" comes the high Christian commemoration of the Incarnation and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the other comes the commercial "tsunami" of exchanging gifts with people in seemingly every social and relational direction. Each of these borrows terminology from each other, for such cross-pollination is inevitable given they occupy the same holiday space. However, I argue that they are very different "personalities" that are irreconcilable, thus making Christmas seem quite "schizophrenic" in practice, regardless of how much some may want them to be merely different aspects of one celebration.

On the one hand, there is the "Christmas" of commemoration. Arranging the calendar around the life and work of Christ, Christians start the year with the Advent and birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus of Nazareth. His Incarnation into a human fetus, conceived by the Holy Spirit and subsequent birth of the Virgin Mary in a stable at Bethlehem ("House of Bread") marks the beginning of both the Christian calendar and the execution of the Messiah's redemption. Indeed Matthew has summarized the meaning of Christmas with "Emmanuel, which means 'God with us'" (Matt 1:23). The great pinnacle of the story of redemption is in how God took on human flesh, stooped to the human condition, fully adopted humanity for himself, in order to rescue humanity from the curse of its own sin. Thus the carols, the hymns, the church services and biblical imagery of ubiquitous nativity scenes are ever appropriate to celebrate this chief of God's acts in history.

The timeless One entered time.
The ageless One became a newborn.
The all-sufficient One became dependent.
The all-powerful One became vulnerable.
The uncontainable One was constricted to a womb.
The One whom the universe cannot clothe...
...needed strips of cloth to stay warm.

Remembering this most radical of events in time is the stuff of the "Christmas" of commemoration. It is glorious. It is comforting. It is the catalyst and arena of worship.

On the other hand, there is also the "Christmas" of consumerism. Arranging the commercial calendar around this annual gift exchange, retailers have every expectation of "reaping a harvest" during this time. This has given rise to even the naming of the day following Thanksgiving "Black Friday," suggesting that businesses enjoy a sales boost that will put them "in the black" for the year. The attachment of gift giving among people to the biblical stories of wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus, or even alluding to Christ as our "gift" ("For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given" - Isa 9:6) have long since been brushed aside. Now the occasion is summed up completely in the oft repeated question to children, "What do you want for Christmas?" So pervasive is this collective assumption regarding the buying of gifts for all who one knows, that it produces it's own sense of cultural shame.

Anyone with an inkling of social reciprocity will spend money on gifts for as many in the address book that can reasonably be contacted - goes the belief. This has given rise to the office gift exchange, the sending of gifts to distant relatives and any other friends that one desires NOT to insult. In an ironic reversal of the legacy of St. Nicholas, the poor are not so much cared for by anonymous benefactors, but are instead shamed for failing to participate more fully in the festival of "give more gifts." Limited resources are a curse showcased by limited engagement in the "buying/giving" festival, constituting a perceived affront to acquaintances and loved ones in every social/relational direction. Christmas Day is then transformed into an occasion of guilt for having bought so little for those that you otherwise care deeply about. Therefore, the great American exchange of materials seems rather disconnected from the Christian holiday that uses the same label and date on the calendar. A separate holiday should be invented for this annual ritual that can be clearly differentiated from the commemoration of the birth of Christ (i.e. Christmas).

For this reason, I would like to propose a second holiday be instituted for this specific purpose: the festival of Tribuo Magis Munia (Latin for "give more gifts"). Certainly some etymological progression can take place to help this roll off the tongue better (i.e. "Christ's Masse" developing to "Christmas"). Nevertheless, the other "personality" within the calendar date called "Christmas" must be excised from "Christ's Mass." In our consumer driven free-market economy, it is unlikely that the festival of "give more gifts" could be caused to dissipate, reversing 200 years of "religious capitalism." Therefore, it would seem more realistic to simply give it its own name (even if it cannot be assigned a different date). This could offer people the opportunity to celebrate Christmas fully without having to engage the consumerist festival if they choose not to. Tribuo Magis Munia could then be a matter of persona choice, and even enjoy the secularizing influence felt in the rest of western cultural as well.

Christianity has been called "the poor man's religion," for the grace of Christ is offered free of charge to the penitent. By contrast Tribuo Magis Munia offers a costly "indulgence" whereby the wealthy may purchase "absolution" for neglecting relational connections throughout the year. Scrooge ecstatically proclaims, "the spirits did it all in one night... [because WalMart is open 24 hours]." In a somewhat reversal of the Gospel, Santa Claus blesses the children whose parents can afford his visit. Instead of "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light" (Isa 9:2), the people walking in poverty hang their heads in guilt for giving so little. Tribuo Magis Munia stands in contrast to Christmas, and therefore must be given its own festival. The two resident "personalities" of this schizophrenic holiday need separation from one another. I welcome help in the name progression, but desire to differentiate these for future years in our home.

1 comment:

Amber said...

Could not agree MORE. Bravo! :)