Observing, Not Celebrating

userpic=chanukah-christmasTomorrow is Christmas, meaning that it will shortly be Erev Christmas. You see Christmas, given that Jesus was Jewish, is celebrated like any other Jewish holiday, starting in the evening of the day before. But I digress…

Tomorrow is Christmas. By the way, you know how Christmas is like Halloween? Dec 25 = Oct 31. I actually once had that question on a final exam. But I digress…

Tomorrow is Christmas. I don’t celebrate Christmas so much as observe it. I observe it coming. I observe the obession, the songs, the decorations. I observe the rituals. I do all of this from a respectful distance. I don’t celebrate it — it’s not my holiday. To me, there’s no particular reason to celebrate Jesus’ supposed birthday. However, if that is meaningful to you, go for it, and I wish you a merry Christmas.

The Christmas of today is overly commercial, and not at all what the holiday once was. I listen to this wonderful podcast called Backstory, and a recent broadcast focused on the historical origins of Christmas in America. It talked about how Puritans didn’t observe the holiday at all. It also talked about how the custom pre-1800s was the inversion of the social order, the poor going door to door for gifts from the community. The Peter, Paul & Mary song “A ‘Soalin” about wassailing  is an example of this custom. This was all inverted thanks to the growth of cities and the poem “Twas The Night Before Christmas“, which introduced the modern notion of gift giving, the focus on a family-centered celebrations and giving gifts to people you know. Since then, Santa has been a major advertising icon, and the meaning of Christmas has been shaped by commercial interests. If you weren’t in the know, you might think the holiday was about Santa and trees and spending all you can (the car commercials are particularly egregious in my eyes).

I don’t like the commercial Christmas. I like the notion of using the holiday to remember what Jesus taught, which is often not what was promoted by the church (except, perhaps, by Pope Francis, who seems to be putting Jesus back into Catholicism). To me, the holiday is best expressed by the Peter, Paul, & Mary song “Christmas Dinner” — which never gets any airplay as a Christmas song, perhaps because it really says what the holiday is:

And it came to pass on a Christmas evening
While all the doors were shuttered tight
Outside standing, lonely boy-child
Cold and shivering in the night

On the street, every window
Save but one, was gleaming bright
And to this window walked the boy-child
Peeking in saw candle light

Through other windows he had looked at turkeys
Ducks and geese, cherry pies
But through this window saw a grey-haired lady
Table bare and tears in her eyes

Into his coat reached the boy-child
Knowing well there was little there
He took from his pocket,
His own Christmas dinner
A bit of cheese, some bread to share

His outstretched hands
Held the food and they trembled
As the door, it opened wide
Said he, Would you share with me Christmas dinner
Gently said she, Come inside

The grey-haired lady brought forth to the table
Glasses two and her last drop of wine
Said she, Here’s a toast to everyone’s Christmas
And especially, yours and mine

And it came to pass on that Christmas evening
While all the doors were shuttered tight
That in that town, the happiest Christmas
Was shared by candle light.

To those reading this who celebrate Christmas, may you have the happiests of celebrations. To those who merely observe: you’ve survived yet another Christmas season, and tomorrow we can go see a movie and have Chinese food. May the MSG not get you.