Christmas and New Years can be complicated times. Christmas, especially, is an emotionally-charged time, and I have a lot of conflicting feelings about it. I had a bit of a breakthrough this December, which I’d like to share with you.
I accidentally went to the Dufferin Mall on Black Friday. I should say, I went to the Dufferin Mall to buy Advent candles and a swim cap, and I forgot that it was Black Friday! It was a terrible experience. So many people, so much consumerism, so little peace. I didn’t find any Advent-appropriate candles or a swim cap, but didn’t want the trip to be totally fruitless, so I picked up some cookie cutters to use the following week for a tree-decorating-cooking-baking party with my housemates.
On my walk home I thought about the experience that I had just lived through, and how it fit into my understanding of Christmas. I have always been bothered by the consumerism/materialism that surround Christmas, and find it SO frustrating that we collectively spend billions of dollars on a bunch of stuff we don’t really need, ostensibly to celebrate the arrival of a baby who was born into poverty, became a refugee, and challenged his followers to live simply. I think that giving and receiving meaningful gifts is a lovely thing, I just don’t think that we need to spend SO much money, and I don’t think that buying more stuff should be the focus of Christmas. And yet here I was, walking home having bought cookie cutters because I didn’t want to leave the mall empty-handed!
But then I thought more about my new cookie-cutters. I hope to have them for a long time, and they are tools in the creation not only of home-made cookies, but of memories with my friends. They represent some of the great things about the Christmas season… time spent together, good smells, yummy tastes, beautiful memories. Along the same lines, we, at The Dale, did a bunch of Christmas baking, went caroling, and held a Christmas open-stage, decorated with red, white and green lights. These things (cookies, carols, lights, fun times) don’t need to be linked with the consumerism/materialism of Christmas that I oppose. They also aren’t the “true meaning” of Christmas, but they’re really great! I don’t have to to boycott gingerbread, just because I oppose the mall!
Then I thought about Advent. I never did find Advent candles, but made a makeshift wreath with tea lights and one tall candle in the middle. I did not grow up with liturgy, but went to an Anglican theology school and was introduced to the Church calendar, including Advent. This year I have really fallen in love with Advent’s focus on waiting, longing, aching and hoping for Jesus. Waiting in hope is hard, but it is good. This is a huge part of the Christian life, and I love that in December we sit and dwell in the waiting. Advent has nothing to do with consumerism, and also has nothing to do with gingerbread. I know there are connections (Jesus is God’s gift to us, so we give each other gifts… We celebrate his coming, which includes feasting), but in my mind these three things (consumerism, gingerbread, etc, and Advent) are distinct aspects of the phenomenon that we call “Christmas”.
And then there is the fact that Christmas is hard, for lots and lots of people. The whole festive-ness of it all brings up pain for many reasons. Families are broken, relationships are strained, loved ones have died, resources are scarce. Christmas is hard for many of my friends at The Dale, for all of these reasons and more. And, as many of you will know all too well, this pain extends beyond the street. Many (maybe even most?) of us struggle at Christmas-time. The pain that we experience is raw and real, and we are in it together. This year I have been learning to dwell in the pain; not minimize it, and not make it more than it is.
So, Christmas is still complicated, but I think I’m okay with that! I have realized that I can be opposed to the consumerism, enjoy the gingerbread, dwell deeply in the hopeful waiting, and work through the pain. Or at least try to!
And then there’s a brand New Year, just beginning! After the intensity of Christmas, it’s refreshing to think of a new year, even if we know that the struggles of 2013 are likely to continue in 2014. I haven’t made any resolutions, but am praying for increased wisdom and grace, two things that I know for SURE that I will be needing this year. And I hope to continue to dwell in the hopeful and patient spirit of Advent all year long.
So… Happy New Year, everyone! May peace be yours.