It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

'Tis the season. Local shops are chock-full of goodies. Online merchants you may have visited fill your inbox with offers. TV commercials remind us what we really need to make Christmas magic. And here in upstate New York we have snow on the ground, and for the past couple of weeks I've driven many days to work through snow flurries. 'Tis the season indeed, love it or hate it.
I happen to love it. "It's the most wonderful time of the year ..." he sings. Warm fuzzies, kind thoughts, good will to all.
I am likely guilty of over-sentimentality. I know people struggle at Christmas. I know families fight and fall apart. I know commercialism runs amok. I know people get into debt. And I know the pain of first Christmas without a loved one. (My mum passed this year.) But still I'm beguiled by the season, for after all, 'tis the season of goodwill. And in our mixed up, wonderful, but often cruel world with so many hurts, we need a season of goodwill. If Charles Dickens, and later movies and TV, had not given us Christmas in its modern version, we likely would have invented it. Human beings are meaning-making, ritualistic animals who need the rhythm of seasons—night and day, work and play, old year new year, birthdays, anniversaries, remembrances—and the myths we weave around them to make sense of life.
Such is the source of all our religious traditions. To be human is to be religious. Our major religions have endured for so long because the stories they tell touch us at a very deep, truly human level.
A refugee family, a heavily pregnant mother, a man whose child is not his own stepping up to take responsibility, the cruelty of society shutting them out, the kindness of an innkeeper doing what he can, working folk and later philosophers in wonder at the birth of a child in whom lies the hope of the world—and if in this child then in every child. It's a great story. No action heroes. No myth of redemptive violence. Nothing flashy. Truly believable. Truly human. Truly hopeful. An enduring myth that helps us make sense of life.
I have to confess to being an avid reader of the news. (In case you're wondering my rags of choice: in no particular order New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, and The Economist.) As I was pondering this blog I came across Andrew Sullivan's recent article in the latest edition of New York Magazine: "America's New Religions." It's a bit of a long read but well worth it. In brief, Sullivan suggests that when traditional religions decline, or are removed, then something very much like a religion fills the void. And that which fills the void is often the poorer than the tradition it replaces. He suggests that as we are moving to a "post-Christian" society in the West, the religions that fill the void are the cult of demagoguery (to the right) and the cult of social justice (to the left). Both new religions have adherents with immense zeal who vow to change the world. Both new religions are humorless. I can't do justice to Sullivan's article in a couple sentences. It's well worth a read.
It is fashionable to trash Christmas. The hyper-religious decry our cultural Christmas and want to "put Christ back into Christmas." That often feels to me something of the killjoy puritanism that is harsh and no fun at all. The secular want to rid the world of Christmas and its religious undertones; get rid of the Holiday.
Unfashionably, I shall celebrate Christmas in all is mishmash of religious and irreligious, sentimentality and bacchanalian feasting. 'Tis the season of goodwill, and how we still need such a season once a year.
God rest ye merry,
+Ab. Andy