Four Christmases

The holiday season is upon us. With it come the inevitable proclamations and expectations that people have for Christmas. Listening to people share their hopes, dreams, and fears for the season I found that there are really four very distinct Christmases that people engage with. You can put them in a quad chart that stretches from Internal to External as well as from Conciliatory to Confrontational:

The external confrontational Christmas is represented by the bumper sticker that demands to keep Christ in Christmas. When people feel threatened in their identity they tend to overemphasize symbols and words. The aggressive overtone of a Kulturkampf corresponds with the perceived threat to a “Christian America”. Christmas is a welcome season to “strike back”. This Christmas is a cultural idol that gets politicized a lot.

The external conciliatory Christmas is one that is manifested in soup kitchens and generous donations throughout the season. When people want to feel good about themselves, the holiday season gives permission and occasion to live that out. Soup kitchens and food banks are notoriously short on volunteers and donations during the summer. But during the holiday season they get swamped with both, making scheduling and storage a nightmare.

The internal conciliatory Christmas is all about home sweet home. It kicks off around Thanksgiving with decorations and food. The cold winter months are the bitter contrast that gets fended off by a home that is warmer and cozier than ever. In a world that is increasingly complex and unpredictable the warm fuzzies of this Christmas bring a sense of safety and security.

The internal confrontational Christmas happens when family members gather around holiday feasts. The expectation is for everybody to get along and behave for the holidays. But the truth of the matter is that there are reasons some people are not invited, stay away, or show up grudgingly. There is no magic in the air that fixes broken relationships without continuous effort.

Did you notice that I just described the entirety of the Christmas experience without mentioning the church or the birth of Christ? They are an afterthought for most people because we are so busy engaging with the four other Christmases. Christmas is the Mass that celebrates Christ. Christ-Mass is a worship service. That is all from a church perspective. You should try it this holiday season.

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