Un-Traditions for Anglicans

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…

7 thoughts on “Un-Traditions for Anglicans

  1. I guess after living in the north away from family and old friends, I’ve come to have a bit of different perspective about two of the traditions you mention but fully agree about the third.

    In Alaska, Christmas trees and lights provide some festive color to the dark, long winter so they are appreciated for that reason. However, I do agree that some displays are way overboard and/or tasteless. I also agree that the link between decorated trees and our Savior’s birth is pretty weak.

    While I understand your desire to be frugal, I don’t think not exchanging greetings with those far away is the best way to save, especially if you live far away from most family. We exchange letters but not cards at Christmas and look forward to getting them for distant friends and relatives. We hang them on string in our living room. It’s a way to keep in touch with them and let them know we are thinking of them over the Christmas season. If we only exchanged with those close to us, we’d be insulting and neglecting those loved ones far away. I wish we lived closer so we could exchange in person, but since we don’t letters and cards are appreciated.

    I totally agree with you about expensive fancy parities though. The “see and be seen” society parties have never made sense to me. The expense is unnecessary and vain. We have a party but it is very informal. We get together in the afternoon to sing hymns and carols with hot chocolate and pot luck snacks. It’s a tradition my mother in law started over 50 years ago.

    • My family is all over the place, but phone calls (now much cheaper than stamps) are how we connect at the holidays. As for sending greetings to family, well, considering how frugal you are in other ways, who would disapprove if you spent some ten or twenty dollars on sending cards to family? But what I had found oppressive and unnecesary was the two hundred dollars I used to spend communicating with people I barely knew – cards, stamps, envelopes, and hours of my time. Certainly, if it had been immediate family I wouldn’t have minded. My grandmother loved getting some big fancy hallmark card every year from each of us. She displayed them in her dining room and felt loved by all of us just to look at them!

      I have a bit of weakness for good holiday lights, too. Probably, like you, from a Northern perspective! I’m thinking that Nicholas, now that he has limited vision, might enjoy seeing the light decorations locally this year.

  2. Yes, that makes more sense. A few years ago we went through and pared our list down to just family and friends we’ve heard from in the past few years. We went from around 200 down to about 80. A much more reasonable amount. We call my parents, brother, sisters in law, and visit my husband’s mom but everyone else gets a letter with pictures and an e-mail.

    A couple of years ago the government threatened to close the post office where my sisters in law live. Now we have them buy our stamps there and mail them to us to keep the income up at that station.

    • That’s an end-run around the government. Although I have five sisters, I don’t have a lot of other relatives, so just family is a manageable list, if I send greetings at all. My guess is that $200 US ten years ago would be closer to $400 now! And wouldn’t that money be better spent on giving a gift to charity?

      • Some years we send cards, some years we do not, but when we do we send out around 20. I do make an effort to send to my aunts/uncles in England, as I have only been back to visit once in 30 years, I generally take time to write a letter in the cards that I send to them.
        Christmas trees, we make every effort to observe the season of advent before we celebrate Christmas. We have candles in our advent wreath, and an advent calendar, the tree will go up a few days before Christmas, and we always intend to keep it up until epiphany, but usually I am ready to put it away by new years.

        I am all for giving to charity, but I do think that when we purchase items we are in turn helping keep others to be employed, if we all stopped purchasing everything, stores would close, factories would lay off employees, and the producers of raw goods would be hurt. And I think most of us would rather take care of our own needs and earn what we need, rather than rely upon charity to support us. ANd, for the most part, those that earn are those that can contribute to worthy causes, but they can only earn if people purchase goods/and or services. Even if a person does spend $400 to send out Christmas cards, they are supporting the store that sells the cards, the manufacturer of the cards, the provider of card stock, ink, and other items involved in the making of the cards, the post office, and etc. etc. etc. and in all areas people are employed and people are able to earn and have dignity.

      • I am a hopeless agrarian, and don’t think about the cities enough, perhaps. I am also a local shopper – try to get as much as possible locally, preferably made or grown locally. There are “real costs” involved in production that go beyond profit and income, so these – the big picture – need to be considered in what we buy.

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