Skipping Christmas – Part 3

The Search for the Slogan

Early on, I tried to capture the idea behind what I was doing to a Bible study class I was holding. They asked me why on earth I was skipping Christmas. I tried as best as I could to explain it to them, but the right words just wouldn’t come. I said that I expected to have new traditions and new purpose next year, but that I needed a year off. It was a year to clear my Christmas brain and figure out what was important. I think I even said something about Jesus actually being born in April or something.

But the more I spoke, the more perplexed and troubled everyone looked. Was I crazy? Was this just some reason to be controversial? It seemed like such a great idea at the time, but now I wasn’t so sure. I said that this year I was indeed throwing the baby out with the bath water, but that it was okay. I’d find the baby next year. (Given that I work with Child Protective Services in my secular job, this analogy didn’t go over very well.)

So I asked my wife how I might be able to explain it to people. She has a knack for coming up with analogies that set people back for a moment, but make really good sense in the end. I told her that I thought this year was kind of like a “Christmas enema” – it might not be the most pleasant thing to go through, but it can be very cleansing in the end. Thankfully, she didn’t think that sounded too good.

She decided that this would be our “Swiss Christmas”. I have to admit, I thought she was going somewhere with a cheese analogy at first. But she was thinking more along the lines of the geo-political spectrum. This year, we would be Christmas “neutral”. We weren’t really going to celebrate, but we weren’t going to skip it either. We were going to stay out of the way and let others do their thing.

There it was. A slogan was born. Now I could tell people that I was having a Swiss Christmas. It was so much better that telling them that, “No, I was in fact not getting ready for Christmas.” I was able to say a much gentler, “We’re keeping it mellow this year.” No big political statement. No looks of utter confusion or, worse yet, fear. No, this was a year to just observe and take it all in.

And then, the mail came.

Skipping Christmas – Part 2

The Word Gets Out

I’m a pastor. Pastors don’t just “skip” major holidays on the Christian calendar. Advent was coming in about a week, and I had to make some quick decisions. How was I going to break it to the congregation about my bold, new initiative to skip one of the most holy days of the year? As grace would have it, there was a way to start the conversation.

Over the summer, we cleaned out the church. When I say “cleaned out”, that’s what I mean. Almost all of the junk that had accumulated over the past ninety years or so was either sold, given away, or thrown out. Included in all of that was all of the old Christmas decorations and the fake Christmas tree that we used in the sanctuary. I took the opportunity to make an announcement in church on the Sunday just before Thanksgiving. This year, we were not going to spend money purchasing new Christmas decorations. We would do something different; something to get us back to the true meaning of Christmas. We were going to decorate the sanctuary with all sorts of nativity sets provided by the congregation.

I also announced that Robyn and I would be skipping Christmas in our own home. This would mean that the parsonage would be undecorated, there would be no Christmas tree at the parsonage, and that we would not be getting gifts for anyone.

Unfortunately, this announcement in the middle of a worship service did not come as good news to everybody. After the service, I was approached by a few people wondering why we would not have a tree in the sanctuary. The problem, it seemed, was that a tree was needed to supply the names and gift ideas of the people for whom we were purchasing gifts.

I also seem to have miscalculated the willingness of the family to go along as well. Some of my family members were in the congregation that day, and had already purchased Izzie some Christmas gifts. They were upset and worried that we were taking Christmas and away from her. It seems that my announcement did not go as smoothly as I had hoped.

So I backtracked, a little. The following Sunday, I told the folks in the congregation that a Christmas tree was fine in the sanctuary, but that we would not be spending church money to purchase it. To ensure that my craziness didn’t spread any further, I put someone else in change of decorating the sanctuary. As it ended up, I actually let the church use my own personal fake tree in the sanctuary. After all, I wasn’t going to need it.

As for presents, we let everyone know that it was fine for them to purchase gifts for any of the three kids, but that it wasn’t a necessity. To my shock, this came as a relief to most members of my family and congregation. Even more surprising, there are more than a couple of people joining us in our “Christmas skipping” revolution. And almost everyone I know is taking a fresh new look at what they have done in the past and are opting for reduced Christmas activities this year. (It’s amazing what $3/gallon gas and $5/gallon milk will do to a budget.)

But “skipping” Christmas sounds so harsh. And it’s not even accurate. We’re not skipping it. We’re trying to find the true meaning this year. What we needed was a catchy slogan…

Skipping Christmas – Part 1

In the Beginning

It all started out as a simple enough idea. All we were going to do was skip Christmas this year. We had no reason not to. We are both broke; Elisabeth is only a little over a year old, so she won’t remember; Rebekah and Caleb are staying in New York with their mother and step-father this year; and Robyn and I have been extremely busy over the past few months. Not having to deal with all of the additional work of decorating, buying gifts, and generally being “jolly” was going to be a relief. On top of that, we have both been desperately trying to fight the tide of consumerism in our culture. Taking a break from Christmas this year would go a long way to breaking that cycle.

Or so we thought.

As I sat and pondered exactly what to do with this newfound resolve, I realized that skipping Christmas was going to be difficult. Yet I was even more sure that it was the right thing to do. But my mind wasn’t completely made up until that last trip to Target.

One evening, Robyn and I took the baby to Target to pick up a few needed items. It was before Thanksgiving, but they had all ready put up their “Holiday Season” display. There were a full twelve aisles of “holiday” decorations, “holiday” necessities, and various fake trees in all sorts of “holiday” colors. Upon closer inspection, I found the word “Christmas” printed in a few places such as on some of the “holiday” wrapping paper and “holiday” cards. And way in the back, on one four-foot section of shelving, I found the three different nativities that were being sold in that store.

To be honest, I was neither upset or surprised by all of this. Retail stores have been struggling with the secular nature of the “Holiday Season” and have wondered what to do about the “Christmas” part of it. Some companies, like Wal-Mart, have chosen to stay with the traditional “Merry Christmas” while many other companies have chosen to go with the more politically-correct “Happy Holidays”. I wasn’t even bothered that the nativities were neatly hidden in the back of the store.

But what did bother me is that there wasn’t any sign of any of the other holidays in the “Holiday Season” display. Nothing at all existed for those that were celebrating Kwanza. And what little existed in the store for Hanukkah wasn’t found in the “Holiday Season” section. I found it all halfway across the store on the end of the office supplies aisle.

So it seems that the “Holiday Season” according to Target has something to do with the birth of Christ, but they don’t want to come right out and say it. It’s the hidden meaning behind it all. Which made it easy for me to skip Christmas this year.

Robyn and I made a promise to each other as we stood in those aisles trying to find the word “Christmas” associated with all of those decorations and fake trees. This was NOT how we were going to raise Elisabeth. We would not succumb to the temptation of making Christmas something that it is not. Now, more than ever, it was important for us to put our foot down. We were going to SKIP CHRISTMAS!!

Now, what am I going to tell everyone.

Everything Must Change

I’ve been reading Brian McLaren’s newest book, “Everything Must Change”. I am not all of the way through it, but it is incredible. I had felt as though his previous books lacked a sense of clarity. This work brings much of the cloudiness of his vision of the Kingdom of God into sharp focus. On top of that, this book gives a finely crafted theological argument upon which to build this vision.

There is so much to say about this book, but I don’t want to jump the gun. My mind has been racing while I’ve been reading and I need some time to let it all soak in.

So, have you ordered the book yet? I got my copy at Overstock.com.