With all the fuss I made earlier about gifts on Christmas I must say that I still like to get them. In fact Emily and I had a number of long talks about Christmas gifts, traditions, and theological implications concerning these things (and what we want to and don’t want to do with our children someday). These conversations we engage in are one of the things that make me love Emily is ways I can’t express, her ability to articulate, argue and think creatively about issues is one of the first things she hooked me with when I first met her.
One thing we discussed was the difference between the celebration of Christmas and the celebration of the incarnation, today these are two different things. Though the two are intertwined this does not mean that they are the same thing. In fact I think that the “new Christmas” is something completely different than the one we want to signify. Gift giving has nothing, or at least very little to do with the birth of Christ, shopping certainly doesn’t, and even meeting with family isn’t really a located within the Christmas story – if anything Mary and Joseph were dislocated from their families because they were on the run.
Of course these things are not bad things. Christmas has become a time where we have a “great excuse” to give our loved ones something special, something we may not do any of time in the year. I don’t see anything wrong with this, granted that it doesn’t get out of hand, simplicity is always a guiding principle here. But even still these gifts should be done in a way that is Christ like, sacrificial and reflecting upon our position as people in need – ultimately of a heavenly gift. I am left at this paradox, at least for now, that God became human and lived among us – his birth should be rejoiced and reflected upon and we love to give gifts (at least to those very close to us) to others, and by making some sacrifice we reflect God’s own nature. But typically the practices we now engage during this season look very little like the stories we read about in the Gospel account.
So, for good reason early Quakers rejected the celebration of holidays, even Christmas as such. Because they saw everyday as a holy day, a day to be rejoiced and a day to celebrate the Spirit’s active role in our lives. They, in good quakerly fashion pushed hard the other way rejecting the world’s delusions and hoping to make a Witness to Christ’s ongoing role in the world.
I am not like those earlier Quakers, insofar as they didn’t see any redeemable aspects in the practices of the world. I do. For I believe that the powers and practices can be redeemed, but sometimes there must be a radical reversal of those practices before redemption takes place.
And so here I am having spent another Christmas going through the motions, but maybe for the first time noticing what those motions were and how they have enslaved me and my own culture (and the church). We are in conversation about how to do this, not only with our family when it begins, but also next year and the year. Practices take a long time to form, or break and so we are headed on the track of transforming the way we celebrate our savior’s birth.
One thing we did this year, an idea I got from a co-worker, was to write each other a letter reflecting on our relationship over the past year. This was by far the most meaningful thing we did for each other. We, or at least I, rarely have stopped to think about the year behind me, the important events, decisions, and experiences we had. Then on top of that, reflect on them and how they interacted with our married relationship. It is very interesting how we see those events and decisions so differently, its good, to see the year from the eyes and heart of another. Its transformative really, to talk about the same things but with a different voice. Those reflections Emily gave to me, helped me to see this past year and our relationship in a way that would have been unavailable to me any other way (for we know that we write things we’d might never say) and so she helped to heal me this year with her written words and stories – the Christmas letter gave birth in me a new world.