Although others might say otherwise, I don’t consider myself to be that old. At least, I don’t feel that old. I say this because it is within my lifetime that I can recall the change that used to take place in people’s attitudes during this time of year.
One didn’t need to be religious or a church-goer, but people seemed to slow down a little, take more time and be patient, take the time to acknowledge others.
The Salvation Army bell would ring outside the stores, and people would put their loose change into the box to help feed the poor. ‘Happy Christmas!’ would be exchanged at the cash registers (remember them?) and no one batted an eyelid. Even drivers – hasty to get home – seemed to behave better. Cars waiting in line would be let into the flow of traffic; the ‘weaver bird’, who weaves from lane to lane, seemed to have ‘gone south’ for the winter; pedestrians no longer had to bet with their lives when trying to cross a road.
This is so much different than today’s experience. Tempers get shorter – as the lines get longer. No one gives an inch, whether it be on the road or in the check out line. Weaver birds flock together as the roads become people’s ‘own private NASCAR’ tracks. Nothing is said to other people – in fact, others are not even acknowledged, as smartphones are either glued to ears or are anxiously scanned for social media replies. Meanwhile, violence erupts if the season’s ‘must have’ toy goes out of stock, or if two parents espy the last of the stock and claim it as their own.
As for being religious or a church-goer: study after study shows that there is zero difference in the lives and activities of church-goers compared with non-church-goers. And as if to prove the point, many churches do not even bother holding a Service on Christmas Day. Too many pastors agree that Christmas is ‘about the family’ or ‘for the children’ and so neglect to prick the consciences of their congregation by reminding them that Christmas is a HOLY DAY. And for those churches that DO hold a Service on that day, the numbers are small, and children are mostly absent.
And then there is the muzak – the canned noise that terrorizes one’s ears in shopping malls and on the radio. ‘Dreaming of a white Christmas’ becomes a nightmare reality for many in northern climes, while Carols play on short rotation, because only a very few are actually known. Then there’s that horrific song that tries to hit so many bases at once – of course, I am writing about the British ‘Band Aid’ song from 1984, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, which contains that amazingly insulting and clueless chorus:
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?
Of course, the main point of that song was to raise money in order to help ensure that second line: ‘The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life’. But trying to achieve that goal by indulging in stereotypes, and by being resolutely clueless to the size, geography, and natural wealth and beauty of Africa, does the African peoples no favors.
But, perhaps, we like that – we like misdirecting reality if it can make us feel a little better, even if only for a short while. We enjoy those soupy adverts that make Christmas such a wistful experience: the perfect family, the log fire, the well-behaved dog, and the ‘ho-ho-ing’ chap who dispenses expensive presents to all. The sentimental inside the capitalist; the nostalgic inside the ‘must-have’; the ‘cost is no object’ if it makes people happy inside those who can’t afford it.
Do I sound cynical? Do I need Winston to find and display my ‘BAH HUMBUG’ cup mat again?
This time of the year scares me. It scares me because one of my favorite religious holidays has been hijacked, and has been distorted, in order to serve mammon – or, more precisely, to serve the profits of the retail industry.
This time of year scares me because we lose the opportunity to find and celebrate the truth as to what this season is really about. Sadly, even for most Christians, it isn’t about Jesus; for some churches it isn’t about Jesus; for too many people – who may think they know that it is about Jesus – it isn’t about Jesus, because, in their minds, Jesus is nothing more than an infantilized prop from a Nativity Play.
The truth is that Jesus will never be ‘the reason for the season’ until Christians make Him their sole reason for the season.