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Ambivalence about Christmas

Sometimes these blogs come together easily. They flow from my brain onto the screen. Other times, I write and re-write, and every word is a problem. That’s the case with this one.

The reason is that I wanted to write about Christmas, but for many years I’ve been ambivalent about this important feast/holiday. The / illustrates the point.

I like traditional Christmas music, especially those with a religious meaning, and I like short-term decorations, the thrill for children, the family gatherings and the good wishes. But I can’t shake the idea that a major, meaningful religious feast day has been shanghaied by commercialism and sentimentality.

Stuff We Don’t Need

I grumble about the too-early lights and decorations at the malls and in neighborhoods, about the insipid Christmas music that will have to be endured for more than a month, about the incessant sales that urge us to buy stuff we and the recipients of our gifts don’t need.

If I were the pope, I would get together with other Christian leaders and try to change the date of the feast of Christmas, conceding Dec. 25 to Walmart, Amazon and Macy’s. They could proceed with their sales and promotions and those few of us left could quietly celebrate the birth of Jesus at another time.

I know that sounds cynical and negative. My brother-in-law, Jim Pfeffer, likes to use the popular phrase, “It is what it is.” And I think that’s where I need to go. I need to accept reality. And the fact is, lots of people actually do celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, and I need to focus on that as well as the quality of my own Christmas celebration.

As I was out for a walk recently, I passed over a sidewalk that had letters written in the chalk that children often use on sidewalks and driveways. The message, spread over 20 or so feet, read: “Jesus is the reason for the season.”


It’s a well-worn slogan, but I felt kinship with the household I was passing. People there obviously had an appreciation for the meaning of Christmas. And the sidewalk slogan sums up my feelings about Christmas, even though Jesus’ connection with Christmas is ignored by much of society. Given my upbringing, I suppose I have a hard time accepting that our society is thoroughly secular.

Then, as I was struggling with writing this blog, I received an email from my lifelong best friend, Fr. Gerald Waris. It was addressed to a couple of dozen of his many friends.

“As we approach the feast of Christmas,” he writes, “we are blessed that finally we have a vaccine to combat the virus.” He then switched to one of his favorite themes.

“… We have all received numerous appeals for money from various charities, and we try to respond to those in need…. My dream and hope is that this time next year with a new administration and efforts of Congress to work together for the people of this country, the requests for funds will dwindle. Yes, we are happy to help those in need, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if those who requested funds this year find it not necessary to ask for funds next Christmas?

“True success for God’s work is that one day everyone will have enough to support their families (so) that food pantries (and) food kitchens will go out of business because the need no longer exists.”

Can’t Use As Excuse

Gerald knows that won’t happen, of course. He knows that Jesus himself reminded us that “the poor you will always have with you.” It is what it is. He also knows that we can’t use that as an excuse to do nothing.

If “Jesus is the reason for the season,” people searching for God, at least in the Christian tradition, should pay attention to the heart of Jesus’ teaching: love of God and neighbor – especially the poor and those who have fallen on hard times.

And I believe that’s what Gerald is saying. This Christmas, particularly, we have an opportunity to live the true Christmas spirit by helping people who have been hit hard by the pandemic, health-wise and economically, and to help change the systems that keep people sick or poor. That will sanctify all the secular parts of Christmas. 

Finally, I pray for the readers of this blog, that you have a peaceful Christmas filled with God’s love, which can come to believers and non-believers and all those in between.

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