Christmas thoughts

We fight hard to retain a sense of the sacred in our contemporary lives.  What was once belief is reduced to myth and passed on as story, holy awe comes in only through the occasional cracks in our busy, practical lives, and the embarrassing desperation of capitalism is laid bare in all its tawdry venality on the very occasions where we should be bending a knee to mystery.

Christmas may be the worst of all in this regard. We’ve killed the magic of Santa in order to sell cars and dish soap, and if we had just a smidgen more courage we’d see Jesus in robes sitting in the front seat of a Lexus or some toothy salesperson hawking the new deluxe manger model of the tempur-pedic mattress.  Coming soon to a holiday near you.

This angers me for its crassness, but, more than anything, it saddens me for what it steals from the children.  What once was entrance into a magical time is now just a blip in the ordinary centered around the acquisition of more stuff.  We do what we can to keep traditions alive or to manufacture new ones, but we know it is an uphill battle.  The sheer brute force of commercialism is an almost invincible adversary.

I remember the struggle with belief around the reality of Santa, where the older kids, having learned the “truth,” tried to shove that truth down the throats of their wide-eyed younger siblings, and how parents struggled with “the conversation” about Santa much as they would struggle with “the conversation” about sex a few years later.  You can say that the removal of this story is just a worthy demythologizing, but, in fact, it is the also the killing of magic.  And all of us, especially the children, need a little magic in our lives.

The one place where the magic remains is around the gathering of family.  We can tell it has magic because it has an air of anticipation about it – even though it does not always go the way we wish — and we feel, in some corner of our hearts, a pain for the loneliness of those who have no one else and are left sitting alone during the holidays.  When you are aware of the pain that the absence of something causes, you know that its presence represents something special.

We can kill Santa, we can reduce the crucifixion and the resurrection to the hunt for Easter eggs, and we can turn our backs on buckle-shoe Pilgrims as colonizing marauders — and all can be seen as inevitable, if not legitimate, evolutions of our awareness and understanding.  But the baby is sliding out with the bathwater.  When the myths are all drained, the magic is gone.

We need to find a way to up our awareness of the sacredness of family.  No, it’s not Leave it to Beaver any more.  It’s not the Waltons or the Brady Bunch or any of the more current sit-com realities about which I am blessedly ignorant.  It is tensions, it is political disagreements, it is gender configurations that boggle the mind; it is out of control kids, it is some disgruntled relative sitting alone in a corner; it is a drunk uncle holding court. But it is also people thrown together by blood and circumstance for a short time on this planet, and the memory of those who are no longer with us and the thoughts of those from whom we are separated by distance.  In short, it is family.

You can sense the whiff of magic by what lodges in memory as a moment in time.  The holidays, denuded of myth and belief as they are, still have the magic of family.  Somehow elevating and consecrating this may be the challenge of our generation.  The institution of small rituals, the larger and more willing embrace of intractable differences, the shining of light on the children in a way that celebrates who they are rather than what they are getting — these are the things we can do.  Indeed, the things we must do.

We owe it to the children, and that is the greatest responsibility of all.


18 thoughts on “Christmas thoughts”

  1. Eileen Patricia Walsh

    JOMO – Joy Of Missing Out

    I do credit my catholic upbringing for training me in how to leave room in my imagination for magic. I’m afraid I credit the Santa story with teaching me that adults lie so they can laugh about how cute we are. Watch out for those types.

    Not all families are safe and supportive places.

  2. I love what you said and the brute force of the message leaves me reeling and staggering, groping for a greater connection to the ‘Flow’, which seems as close to lighting a candle and praying for peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, … rest easy my friend, your message is loud and clear…

  3. Denny Cook Holmes

    Celebrate the children and who they are rather than what they are getting. Those words deeply touched my heart. How very beautiful invoking visions of story telling each child wearing a crown, warmth, and the pure magic of moments spent with loved ones and the benefits of such memories being made.

  4. Liberals and conservatives can agree on the sacredness of the family. The Left, however, manifestly seek to destroy it. It’s in the playbook and their pernicious influence is spreading. It’s been said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. I hope we’re up to the task.

  5. We need to lay down the cudgels during this season, like the soldiers on both sides did during the Christmas Truce in World War I. Celebrate our common humanity, which is under siege in these partisan times. I fear that the planet will be dealing with bigger, more universal issues soon enough, and our partisan differences will seem like sandbox spats.

  6. Shawn O'Rourke Gilbert

    Kent, you could have written this in the 1960s – ‘70s when my husband and I were raising our children. We all decried the same commercialism, the same loss of meaning and magic from Christmas, once the only holy day considered worthy. There are those who still insist that the entire season validly celebrates only or primarily Christmas, but we’ve made some strides. We now acknowledge Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, and some even recognize the validity of these religious celebrations. In a somewhat begrudging tolerance, we have hesitatingly broadened Merry Christmas wishes into Happy Holidays, which allows us to include Thanksgiving, Winter Solstice and New Year’s Day—all good opportunities to celebrate as the cold, winter season closes in each year.

    Unfortunately, Donald Trump has rubbed our noses into a frightening reality that makes a mockery of anything so magical as Santa Claus or so genuine as a variety of spiritual perspectives. In attempts to grab a sole authenticity under the umbrella of the White persons’ Christianity, the pieces of wisdom that we’ve evolved have indeed fallen victim to your powerful sentence: “…the baby is sliding out with the bathwater.” We’re now living with the reality that there is hate enough to overpower our better angels; that our future as a democracy, much less a country that recognizes the spiritual authenticity of community, is in serious danger unless we stand up firmly and take back the power of legitimate respect for each other and for our planet.

    Please forgive my verbosity, perhaps my impudence.


  7. No need to ask forgiveness. I should and would be the last person to criticize verbosity. My attitude is simple: take the words to say what needs to be said, and if the reader doesn’t want to follow you to the end, he or she is not the reader you are seeking. What you say is poignant and wonderfully put. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  8. My wife and are were alone for Christmas; the threat of Covid-19 and the on-coming strain variants, despite our two vaccine shots and recent booster shots tempered our enthusiasm for traveling to the Minnesota metro-areas where most of our combined families live, far from where we live just south of the Canadian border “In the middle of Nowhere.” Facebook and phone calls are our safest holiday fare having sent our Christmas presents well ahead of the post-Thanksgiving Day shopping crush that descends on the post office and delivery services preceding Christmas.

    Our house isn’t decorated with Christmas lights and Santa-anything. There are no Toyland inflatables out in the yard. No recordings of Santa’s shouts to his reindeer or sleigh bell noises up on the roof top. We didn’t even put the fake tree up this year. I did see that grandma did have a couple Christmas song CD albums out, but I never heard her play any of them; it’s a small house. I would’ve heard them.

    I spend a lot of time reading and writing everyday; she, as well. She did devote a great deal of time composing a Christmas letter to every one in the world we know; maybe about sixty. Didn’t break the bank. So on Christmas eve, after engaging our year and half old grand-daughter on Facebook via home video and laughing heartily on both sides of the monitor, we said our goodbyes and well wishes, and turned to television to end our night watching a Christmastime episode of “Call The Midwife.” Talk about heartwarming programming. Unbelievable writing and performances; beautiful storylines that we would want our children and grand children of all ages to embrace. And have. There is goodness ‘out there’ somewhere.

    In the meantime, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow …”

  9. May we not lose the sacred, the mystery, and the wonder of God’s love and may we continually share His story so others may find Him, joy, and peace for eternity. May the spirit of the season burn bright in the dark world giving light to the lost. Light your candle in the wind and protect it by your hand until the adverse winds stop blowing and He comes again to take His own, home. Thoughts and a prayer, amen!

    Thank you, Kent for your words, inspiration, compassion, and care. Merry Belated Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours! Wowahwa!

  10. Yes….more magic would be appreciated and appropriate…I see the wonder in a child’s eyes when asked……are you ready for santa? Or my daughter years ago….at a group xmas party and her 5th santa of the week….and her questioning me about how they all looked different….I noticed THIS santa had a bell in his pocket…I explained to her that santa was just sooo busy this time of year that he would allow helpers to dress up as him for the smaller children….then I told her….but….you never know when the real santa would show …she asked…how do you tell….I whispered…the real santa Carries a bell in his pocket….a few minutes later she noticed the bell…..magic…..yes….we need more…….gary jost

  11. This post sure hit home and makes me ache inside just as I do every year (but less and less it seems) when it all ends and family & friends go back home. You’ve covered the gamut in just a brief piece and I feel like I’ve lived thru most of it. Christmas, the holiday season, seems a microcosm of life or at least the most important elements that we crave and need most to be the best we can be as human beings. Not to be corny, but the word that captures it all seems to be love. As I sit here and reflect on this and what you’ve said, it seems all the opposites of love are what have crept into our veins almost imperceptivity over the decades. Or, maybe I’m just growing older? I sure wish I knew. We have much to rebuild beyond our pipes and bridges, this does seem true.

    A lot of the old Christmas shows and stories end with the lesson that we need to live with that spirit thru all the year. I feel a little better now, your piece was a fine Christmas gift. Thanks!

    Time to get in the shower and get ready for work!

    Keep on blogging. Sure have missed your posts!

  12. I appreciate your thoughts here Kent. I have held in my mind something you wrote about a gathering where the children were expected to serve the elders…bringing them food….and that the children and the elders are the closest to Source…to Spirit. An awareness gathering in both the young and the old through this act, a recognition of where Spirit resides.

    We owe the children the magic of adults who do not forget where Spirit resides and who honor that unique magic throughout their lives. We do tend to forget…in the middle of our existence…how much the gathering of family…be it blood or choice feeds our souls.

    I gave up on christianity a long time ago. However I do embrace the essence of rituals to reconnect with what may have been forgotten during the bright days of Spring and Summer when it is easier to touch what is growing and living. The time of Winter, of dark rest, can bring us the sacred pause needed to remember. Remembering the magic we once held and is always available to us and seeing that magic alive in our children is how we can keep the sacredness of life.

    The rest, as you say, can seem like an uphill battle…to me it seems that that is what happens when we forget to be where we are and who and what we are.

    Blessings Kent. Keep blogging.

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