What was it like for you when you found out that Santa Claus didn’t exist? Did you cry? Did it make you angry? Did it feel like you lost something precious that you could never get back? I’m right there with you. Only I’m not talking about Santa Claus.
So far, the Christmas season has been a time of serious ambivalence, especially considering that I’m going through a bit of a faith crisis. 2017 has been a year of sorrow-filled enlightenment. I finally decided to fully reject literalism in scripture, embrace progressive/LGBT-affirming theology, and even more seriously, only serve at churches that allow me to be open and honest about my beliefs. It’s been a very dramatic journey, filled with tales of abandonment, conflict, and deep loneliness.
It’s okay, though. We shouldn’t let these things get us down, right? After all, Christmas can still be a time of peace, joy, and Mariah Carey, right? It’s also a holiday that allows us to reflect on all that Jesus has done in our lives, right? Who cares that this somehow translates into evangelicals getting really hostile about Starbucks coffee cups and throwing Jesus outrageous Sweet Sixteen parties where (for whatever reason) we get to pocket all the gifts? God bless us, everyone!
But what happens when your new views on Christianity directly impact how you observe Christmas? What if your newfound theology makes you believe that Jesus probably wouldn’t be okay with this hyper commercial and materialistic birthday party that we try to throw him every year? Are you really loving your neighbor when the nativity scene in your front yard is basically saying in sparkly lights: “This is my world, you heathens!” That sounds like a birthday party that Jesus wouldn’t go to. And by that I mean he wouldn’t even be invited.
Here are a few more sobering facts about Christmas (aka Jesus’ birthday):
You get the idea. Deconstruction of faith ultimately means deconstruction of Christmas. And regardless of how many jokes I make about it, my most true self is completely devastated and depressed. Christmas songs no longer have their euphoric effect, candy canes don’t taste quite as fresh and minty, and even Ralphie and his Red-Rider BB gun can’t really cheer me up (despite his hilarious profanities). Sorry, Andy Williams. It is no longer the most wonderful time of the year.
As I prepare to travel back home to see my family for the holidays, I often ask myself, “Why do I even celebrate Christmas anymore?” Christmas almost doesn’t feel like a time to celebrate, but instead a time to mourn. It feels like a loss of innocence, security, and most of all, identity. I don’t really know who I am without my Christmas Jesus.
The good news is that there’s hope. There’s always hope, even when it’s hard to find. Perhaps Christmas this year can be a time to really discover something brand new. It can be about the birth of something completely different.
I think it’s a good thing to teach kids about Santa, only to one day break their hearts. Their hearts need to be broken. When a heart breaks, it has an opportunity to be reconstructed into something stronger and more beautiful. Every time my heart has been broken, it has always been remade in a way that empowers me to see the beauty of humanity not just as it is, but also as it could be. Perhaps Christmas this year isn’t so much about the birth of Christ, but the rebirth of Christ in my heart as more of an abstract, undefinable, ineffable source of peace.
Christianity used make me feel safe. Now it makes me feel dangerous. Christianity used to make me feel afraid of doing the wrong things. Now it makes me feel brave when I follow my heart. Christianity used to make me feel secure in all that I knew. Now it makes me feel like I’m truly living by faith.
And I’m a better person for it.
It would’ve been nice to believe in Santa/Christmas Jesus forever, but at some point it all has to take on a new meaning. As I continue to struggle with these new ideas of faith, I think that December 25th can be a day where I truly contemplate how Jesus would celebrate Christmas if he were still here on earth. What kind of gifts would he give humanity? Would he care that people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? Would he have an opinion on what Starbucks coffee cups look like? Nah...Jesus probably runs on #Dunkin.
I imagine being in a room with Jesus on Christmas Day. We’d be sitting around a fire, drinking mulled wine (that was once hot tea), and watching snow fall in the front yard while my niece and nephew play in it.
“So what’s the point?” I’d ask.
“What do you mean?”
“Of Christmas. Why do we celebrate Christmas?”
He’d sit closer to me and say something like, “Do you love your wife?”
“Despite my inability to show it regularly--yes. I love her with all of my heart.”
“Good. Do you love your family and friends?”
“They are the wildest, weirdest bunch of people that I’ll ever know. Of course I love them. Every freakin’ one of them.”
“Good,” he’d say with a smile. “So do you love me?”
I don’t think I’d answer right away. I would think about it some, and eventually say, “I think so. I mean, I do. I still very much do. And I always will. I just have no idea what that means anymore.”
“I love you too, Jack. Merry Christmas.”
“Thanks. Merry Christmas.”
Maybe that’s it. Maybe all Christmas really needs to mean is “I love you.”
And with that being said, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours. 2017 was a strange year to be alive, but 2018 might be our best year yet. Especially if we're in it together.
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Annie & Jack
Love. Marriage. Teamwork. Art. Offsetting the patriarchal footprint. These are some of the things we're thinking about.