Christmas is right around the corner and you know what that means, get the decorations up, shop around the clock, and use every spare moment to wrap and plan. Millions of dollars and thousands of hours will go into preparations for this single day.
But is all this hubbub really necessary for a birthday? Granted it’s for the ‘King of Kings but didn’t they used to celebrate His birth with far less fanfare? Well, birthday parties aren’t what they used to be, that’s for sure. And Jesus isn’t the only one honored with a dazzling over-the-top extravaganza. Today, parties are a cottage industry that promotes the obscene. Whether it’s the local game center, bounce place, princess makeovers, or a laser tag facility it has to be someplace grandiose, someplace with an astronomical price tag like $500 to $1,000 on average; so different from just a generation past.
When I was a kid we had cake and ice cream, a few friends, and games like “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”. That was the norm for most kids but even the rich kids didn’t fare much better. They had grander decorations, more presents, and maybe a clown or magician. But it was nothing that sent kids home in a jealous rage, still just a party.
The difference was, the party wasn’t everything. At my house, our birthday was a big deal all day long. We didn’t have to do any chores on our birthday because; well because it was our birthday. We got to pick the TV shows we wanted to watch and Mom fixed our favorite dinner. The parties weren’t comparable to today but it was a special day filled with reminders of how special we were and we reveled in the attention.
But that was then and this is now. This is the culture we’re stuck with, it is what it is. But here’s my question, is it really just ‘keeping up with the Joneses that drives this madness or something more sinister?
I had some Christmas show on the TV this morning as I worked on holiday preparations. I caught just enough to know it was the standard predictable fare, boy meets girl, boy does something nice for girl’s kid, they fall in love and hook up, the end. And that’s ok, not a lot of plot lines they can they push for the holiday.
Anyway, I continued my chores with the syrupy show in the background until I heard familiar music, a Christmas carol. I stepped back into the living room just in time to catch the movie’s finale, the boy and girl confirming their newfound undying love in front of a Christmas tree and sure enough, Silent Night playing softly in the background.
That’s when it hit me. Christmas has become just another over-the-top birthday celebration for America. We blame retail and commercialism but are those the real culprits? Or have we become a generation of accomplished actors and actresses, each playing ourselves, saying our lines with practiced inflection, paying tribute to God with the same whipped-up passion normally reserved for the Oscars.
It would explain a lot actually, why we don’t seem to really care about anything, how we can so easily separate God out of the mix of our daily lives. It would explain the birthday parties, weddings, and sadly, it would explain Christmas because they’re all just sets to us now. It’s about setting the scenes for the special events that will make us happier than we ever dreamed possible or at least that’s the hype.
And the Christmas show’s a big hit! The dazzling sets get bigger and go up earlier every year. Detailed backdrops of the North Pole, sparkling trees and decorations, or a cozy fire in a Thomas Kinkade cottage magically light up window displays and homes all across the country. The stage is set for Santa, Frosty the Snowman, or token families to make their scheduled appearances. The sets are stunning, the glitzy props perfectly crafted, and wait for it, it’s a musical! There’s the secular music such as Winter Wonderland or Baby It’s Cold Outside, perfect for a Broadway production, but for more serious scenes they use actual Christmas Carols.
Let me just say that I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to using carols as ‘mood music’ yet I was deeply offended that the music and lyrics that capture the miraculous birth of our Lord and Savior was being used as a score for some made-for-TV movie. Then in a moment of soul-searching clarity the sad truth punched through. We’re all doing the same thing, setting the scenes, wielding the props, and using Jesus’ birth as a backdrop for our own cheesy movies.
So what’s my solution? No Christmas decorations, movies, or presents? Nah, I’m not going to change the world. For the most part, I won’t change myself to any degree. I’ll still go nuts with decorations, spend too much on presents, and fret over Christmas dinner. But that doesn’t have to be all there is.
This year I want to go off-script and try something new. I want to print out the lyrics of a Christmas carol, corner my disinterested hyperactive grandkids, and read the words to them. I want to discuss the song’s references and hear their thoughts.
Maybe I’ll pick We Three Kings of Orient Are. I’d like them to know the story of those three wise men who set out with gifts for the King. Our discussion might include their long journey or their valuable gifts. Do the kids know that Christmas gift-giving started as a way to remind us of these wise men?
Or perhaps I’ll print out O’ Christmas Tree and talk about how the evergreen was chosen for Christmas and how the tradition of decorating trees came about.
But whichever carol I pick, I’ll be doing something different, I’ll be a rebel defiantly protesting the scripted dialogue. Even if the sets and props stay the same, even if most of the cast doesn’t change, this small ad-libbed scene might start new traditions for my family, small changes that might someday make a real difference. Changes that might bring us back to a ‘home party’ where the party is no longer more important than the birthday. That’s my Christmas wish.