A Christmas Story with tips on how to celebrate with simplicity (kinda long)greenspun.com : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread
I am thinking of printing this and passing it out and such. Would appreciate feedback. Sorry for it being kinda long.
Christmas is supposed to be one of the most joyful holidays during the year. We wish each other a Merry Christmas and we speak of Christmas peace and joy. Yet, for many if not most people, Christmas seems to fall short of what one would hope it to be. The frantic preparations for Christmas can lead to short tempers and bickering in the family. Those who are living alone or whose famlies are somehow divided feel great loneliness. Even those who have a wonderful Christmas day often suffer from a post-holiday depression. The week between Christmas and New Year's Day is marked by the highest consumption of alcohol throughout the year. The suicide rate also shoots up right after Christmas.
One of the biggest difficulties seems to be that we place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves and upon the day. Concerning ourselves, we expect to be able to clean the house,do the shopping,decorate the tree and the house,write the Christmas cards,etc.,etc., and still do all the rest of the work that we are expected to do throughout the year. We begin to measure our self worth against how good a job we do on all of these things. We begin to obsess about what our holiday guests might think if they arrive and we are not ready or everything is not perfect. We feel trapped and our patience slowly fades as we feel more and more pressured. We end up frustrated and short with those we love.
Just as we establish unrealistic expectations for ourselves, we do the same thing for Christmas itself. We hear the beautiful Christmas story, and think of how wonderful it must have been to be there. We hear all the beautiful Christmas songs, we see the beautiful decorations, the wonderful Christmas shows and we expect that all of our family difficulties should disappear. Some rush to Church, a Church that is all of the sudden packed to overflowing, and we feel that we should have a warm Christmas feeling instead of feeling hurried and uncomfortable because we are jammed into a pew. We finally reach the end of Christmas day, and our feeling is most often one of relief and exhaustion rather than of peace and joy.
Furthermore,starting at a very young age children begin to measure the success of Christmas if they receive everything that they had wrote down on their gift list to Santa. Parents measure their success by how well they respond to the whims of their children. They measure their self worth at work by the size of their Christmas bonus. They try to determine the vigor of their friendships with others so they can estimate the cost of the gift due to that person (a process that sometimes involves grand calculations so that one daughter-in-law,grandchild,etc., does not receive more than another).
So how can people celebrate the most famous holiday without feeling like it's a big failure, or coming up short. Maybe we should return to the first Christmas and see how Mary and Joseph spent the time from which the world would create into Christmas.
The Gospel of Luke emphasizes the poverty of the family. They are forced to seek shelter in a stable use for farm animals. (The beautiful ceramic pieces of most of out manger scenes do not truely reflect what Mary & Joseph experienced) It was cold and damp, and it was probably early spring when Jesus was born (the December 25th date we now use for our celebration of Christmas is based upon an old Roman holiday and not any recollection of when Jesus was actually born). There was mud and manure,fleas and stench. Mary must have huddled close to the child to give whatever body heat she could.
Then the guests (the shephards) arrived to give their homage to the new born babe. Once again this scene is romantically portrayed in our manger scenes as the shepherds bringing a lamb to offer to the new born son and family. Yet, if one considers the social status of shepherds in them times, one realizes that if they were carrying a lamb, it was probably because they were going to steal it and not because they were bringing it to Mary & Joseph. Shepherds were considered to be notorious characters. They stole and lied. They were kept outside of the city walls because no one trusted them. Thus,one must wonder whether Mary & Joseph were overjoyed to see them. It would be like a young girl today giving birth in a roadside bus stand and have the Hell's Angels surround her on motorcycles.
The Gospel of Matthew presents another picture. We are told that Joseph is a righteous man and because he was righteous he decided to send Mary away. The translation in most of our Bibles is a bit off. What is really stated is that although he was righteous,he decided to divorce Mary quietly. Technically, because he and Mary were engaged and she was now pregnant, he could have accused her of adultery and have had her stoned to death. In spite of the fact that he usually followed the law to the letter, he decided to be merciful and only send her home with a divorce ( which of course meant in their society that she would never be married). It was only by a intervention of some kind that kept him from doing so.
Even the visit by the Magi is filled with conflicting images. The three gifts offered are gold,frankincense and myrrh. Gold is a gift which one would give to a king. Frankincense is a type of incense which would be burned to give honor to God. Finally, myrrh was an ointment which was used to anoint the dead. So Mary and Joseph now have gifts that they are not quite sure whether they should keep or to use.
Then there is the exile into Egypt. After all of the wonderful scenes above they are now refugees from political persecution.
All of this reminds us that the first Christmas was not all that perfect. Mary was thought to be an unwed mother and an adulteress. she bore her child in extreme circumstances. She and Joseph were visited by unsavory characters and had to flee for their lives.
Maybe this can give us some insight into how we should celebrate Christmas. Maybe if we celebrate with more simplicity. If fewer rooms were cleaned and fewer cookies baked and fewer ornaments hung,maybe there would be more time spent with family and be a more peace filled Christmas.
Maybe instead of buying that umpteenth toy, we could donate a sum of money to a soup kitchen in their behalf or we could ask them to donate one of their toys to a child who would not otherwise receive a toy. They could learn early that Christmas is not only about receiving, it is also about sharing.
We could continue that message by sharing our Christmas with those who need us. Maybe there is a relative in a nursing home or someone who is home alone.
Finally, we have to realize that no matter what happens on Christmas day, it cannot spoil our celebration any worse than Mary's and Joseph's first one. But to do all this, we must give ourselves a few moments of silence and remember what Christmas is really about. Its about love, giving and being.
-- TomK(mich) (email@example.com), November 30, 2001