I’ve been thinking about Anglican Christmas traditions. I wish we had some better ones, or could get back some of the old ones. We have become a very cultural church, and follow the latest trend a little too closely. Some so-called traditions I would like to see dropped:
1. Christmas trees EVERYWHERE. The Christmas tree did not appear in England until Queen Victoria got married, and was brought in as a German custom by Prince Albert. That’s all right, but the Victorian tree was a wee thing with a few baubles and some candles stuck on it, and usually sat on a tabletop in the parlour. It was not for public display. The Lutheran legend is that Martin Luther brought home a small evergreen one Christmas eve, and put candles on it to show his children how the trees looked at night with the stars shining through them, a kind of representation in a Nordic way of the night of the Nativity, with the star over Bethlehem, and the angels glowing in the night sky. Well, this was pretty impressive for sixteenth century children who must have had better imaginations than modern children. And that version of why we have Christmas trees is much nicer and sweeter than the sacrifice to Wotan one.
So why do we have to have Christmas trees – massive Douglas firs or the plastic equivalent – everywhere we turn from American Thanksgiving to Epiphany? Because the wasteful large tree has become a status symbol, covered with lots of expensive designer ornaments.
And please, keep the tree out of the church!
2. Expensive parties from November 30 through New Year’s Eve.
Advertising would have us believe that the whole month of December is about parties: glittery clothes, lots of food and drink, decorating the house like Versailles on the Sun King’s birthday. We are reminded and cajoled to shop for the perfect little dress, get our hair dyed, cut and ornamented, paint our faces like courtesans, and wear high heels in the winter. Spend money, look glamorous (although we can be pretty frumpy the other eleven months) and pretend that we live amongst the glitterati and rock stars.
Come on, now. So few of us really aspire to that lifestyle that these holiday ads are nothing but 30-second romance novels. It isn’t going to happen. We don’t live in a world where we get invited to dozens of parties, because most of our families and friends are striving to just get to work and pay the bills. But we buy into it anyway, and indulge in clothes we might wear once, in food and drink no one really needed, and we try to pretend for just a little while that the world is not what it is. This is unhealthy and leads to a huge emotional drop when January 2 comes, and we have loads of laundry to do, a busted bank account, nothing but gumdrops and cheap champagne in the pantry, and a reality of grizzling children and hung-over spouses. And there’s no black-uniformed maid to swoop down, straighten up the mess and set us on our feet. The glmaour was just that – fake stardust and lies. The root of the word glamour is illusion. It is not about financial and social success; it is about being deceived and literally led astray by the dark spirits.
3. Christmas Cards. Considering the amount of waste that goes into sending cards, including trees, money and your time, why are you doing this? Even recycled paper cards are using up a resource that could go elsewhere. Hand-make and hand-exchange a few cards with close friends and family. The children can help with this, or you can utilize your innate artistic skills. It will be more satisfying and take no more time to produce twenty hand-made cards than to address, sign and send 100 general printed greetings. I used to dread the Christmas card exchange, and the resulting flood of return mail. I dropped out of the whole thing when I started seminary. With papers due, I was not going to spend hours addressing envelopes and dutifully writing little progress reports to people I hadn’t seen in years.
That’s a brief list. There may be more…