Why Do You Need Christmas Now?

Ready or not, Christmas is coming.  The reminders began some time in September when a few decorative items began popping up at the Hallmark stores. Now that Halloween is over, Christmas anticipation is in full swing.  Most stores are decorated for Christmas and are selling Christmas swag.  Radio stations have begun playing the same tired rotation of Christmas music (some of them nonstop).

This blog bemoaned the early onset Christmas celebration since it was still on MySpace.  I never understood the need to rush the season.  Why do we feel this need to hurtle ourselves at top speed toward Christmas when it's not even Thanksgiving?  What do we derive from trying to make Christmas last for two or three months?  What is the purpose? (Also, why does everyone love all that terrible music?)

Recently a memory came back to me from college that still makes me think.

Sometime in December of my freshman year, a hallmate in my dorm invited me to the Christmas party for one of the campus Christian groups. Those were the days when I was still walking the line between being a believer and not being a believer. I felt it was a good idea to get to know the big believers on campus.  Besides, as a freshman I was eager to keep meeting new people.  I went to the party.

The party was low-key and boring, but it gave me some insight.  The members of the group went around the room talking about what Christmas meant to them.  After everyone in the circle who wanted to share had shared, one of the leaders of the group provided this nugget of wisdom.

She said that nonbelievers, or less committed believers, always talked about the Christmas spirit and the joy felt at Christmas time.  What is Christmas? It is a celebration of the arrival of Jesus on earth.  What the less faithful didn't understand was that once you are saved, you have Jesus with you all the time.  There is no anticipation of what you already have.  You don't need it to be Christmas to feel that spirit, to feel that joy.  It's always with you.*

If you are a Christian, do you feel Jesus is always with you?  Do you feel the spirit of love, joy, and peace that a relationship with Jesus is supposed to convey? I'm not asking this sarcastically or to make you question your beliefs.  I am reminding you of your own convictions.  As a Christian who believes that Jesus has brought you a sense of divine peace and joy in your life, do you need Christmas to be front and center in October?  If you are going to church every week, and not just on Christmas day (as the merely culturally Christians do) are you not already reinforcing those beliefs?

If you feel you need Christmas to feel more connected to the core of your beliefs, maybe you should spend a bit more time in prayer and contemplation and try to understand what might be lacking in your faith.  Maybe all you need is to get together with some of your church members socially and find ways to connect to your faith together.  Have a prayer breakfast (or lunch or tea or dinner) with plenty of good food and some affirmations and Bible reading together.  Maybe join your church choir and enjoy praising God in song the way both religious and secular choirs do at Christmas.

What if you're not quite so religious?  Do you really need Christmas to feel the Christmas spirit?

What does Christmas mean to you?  Is it spending time with family and friends?  Is it the parties?  Is it the gifts (it's okay to like giving and receiving gifts)?  What do you derive from Christmas that makes you want to start celebrating it three months before it happens?

Do we need Christmas, and the extended anticipation of Christmas, to give us joy, or is there another way?

I will give my own example.  One reason I celebrate Christmas as a non-believer is that I hate winter.  Christmas gives me something to look forward to in winter.  In the midst of short days and chilly weather (the 74-degree Christmas Eve in 2015 notwithstanding), I can take a mental break by having a delicious meal with my family. I love planning and cooking an extravagant meal and seeing my apartment decorated with trees and lights and candles.  I would be lying if I didn't say that experience wasn't enhanced by gifts (giving as well as receiving).

You know what time of year is more miserable than December and the winter solstice?  January and February.  Also March.  April is pretty miserable these days too (why won't the weather just be warm already?)  If  I celebrate Christmas to brighten up December, why not have more celebrations to enliven the miserable days ahead?   I enjoy cooking for people.  I joke that I live to give dinner parties.  I love gathering with friends and family and just eating and drinking and enjoying the company of loved ones.  Is there any reason why I can't have a "Christmas" celebration?  Do I need a major national holiday to enjoy the company of friends or family? 

Think of the Danish concept of hygge.  It refers to making yourself cozy and comfortable and retreating from the stresses of the outside world, but it also encompasses friends and conviviality.  One can hygge alone by curling up with a good book on a winter day, but hygge is best shared with others.  The idea is to gather together to retreat from the cold and dark and enjoy warmth and friendship.

Why not try having a winter party some time in January or February.  Maybe have a "Galentine's Day" or "Palentine's Day".  Cook your most beloved recipe, or even have a potluck of everyone's favorite recipe (or order in if that's what you are into).  Light plenty of candles.  If you have a fireplace, light it.  Play music that makes you happy.  Serve hot chocolate (or hot cider or hot toddies).

That sounds a lot like Christmas, doesn't it?

Christmas has the added dimension of presents, which is not likely to be part of your winter celebration, but if you honestly believe that we should all be removing the materialism and greed from Christmas, then this shouldn't be an issue.  Create some new entertainment.  Have a game night.  Have a movie night. You can even be bold and be more creative and take your celebration outside.  Have a skating party or a sledding party. Go skiing.  Bundle up and take a winter walk through a touristy town in your region.  Go snowshoeing or simply bundle up for a winter hike.  If you really can't tolerate the outdoors, go bowling or hit up a trampoline park.  Then everyone can gather at home for food and beverages. (I am hoping to cheer myself up during the dark days of winter by gathering friends for an ice cream crawl and a pie crawl.)

But why confine your non-holiday celebration to the winter?  Have a spring party.  Have a summer party.  Celebrate  the Equinox, May Day, or the Summer Solstice.  If it's too hot for fireplaces, have a barbecue.  Light tiki torches instead of candles (or use candles if you like them).  Get a fire pit and toast marshmallows.  Have a singalong.  Is it someone's birthday?  Instead of going to a noisy, impersonal restaurant, have an intimate dinner at home with a home-cooked meal.

Don't forget the beautiful (or silly or kitschy) decorations for your party.  Display objects that speak to your sense of celebration no matter what they are.

If you really love giving gifts at Christmas, imagine how much better a surprise would be if it's not Christmas and you give a loved one a gift, "just because".

You can also listen to Christmas music any time of year.  Keep in mind there is plenty of beautiful music in the world that can set a joyful or tranquil mood.

The cynical side of me sees something more sinister in the rush to Christmas.  Halloween is the new Christmas when it comes to parties and decorations.  The (*BARF*) pumpkin spice treats and the costume shops open in August.  It is frighteningly similar to how stores begin selling Christmas merchandise as far back as September and go full force once Halloween is over.  Christmas and Halloween are spending holidays and retailers want to remind you the holidays are coming so you will spend early and spend often.  We have all fallen under the spell of the shiny objects retail stores dangle in front of us. Don't be duped into their con.

You don't need to start celebrating Christmas for three months before Christmas happens.  Whatever feeling you derive from celebrating Christmas does not have to come from Christmas.  Joy, beauty, friendship, family, food, love, and faith are yours for the taking any time of year.  Don't wait for Christmas to celebrate.  Just gather your loved ones and celebrate.

*I suppose this woman can take credit for leading me down the road of non-belief because I realized I didn't feel that and never had.


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