Today’s post is a bit of a vent, although it does have a substantial point, so if that doesn’t sound appropriately holly and jolly to you for a Christmas post, feel free to duck out now.
Basically, this post is going to come down to one thing:
Let me start with an anecdote. There is a social media post – I think it originated on Twitter – from last year where a Muslim man essentially live-blogs his experience of celebrating Christmas for the first time due to lockdown keeping him around his (apparently Christian) roommates through December, instead of spending the month with his family. It’s really an interesting and fun post; he talks about the confusion of being allowed to wrap gifts for yourself but not putting things in your own stocking, the energy it takes to decorate, and the emotions behind food traditions. But close to the end of the thread, my heart breaks:
“Observation 7: The religious aspect of Christmas is optional.”
This concept has been creeping around my peripheral awareness for years now, but to see it blatantly asserted by someone who appears to be genuinely trying to learn about Christmas is absolutely heartbreaking. This isn’t negotiable. If you think you can separate religious aspects of Christmas from non-religious ones, you’re not celebrating Christmas, but a watered-down version that masquerades with the name “Christmas” and is actually nothing more than a glitter-dunked excuse to buy lots of stuff and – sometimes, hopefully – remind people that you care about them. Hallmark movies are fun, but Christmas is not about a feel-good aesthetic. It’s about a gritty piece of history with implications that affect everything that has happened ever since.
Before I get too far on that tangent, here’s another story that brings us closer to the main point of this post. One of my coworkers was recently talking about a new advent calendar they were excited to start, which surprised me because this coworker has explicitly said they are not Christian and do not respect Christian concepts. So, how is there no apparent contradiction here? To them, an advent calendar is just a fancy box with smaller boxes in it which each contain a trinket. It’s just a gift that you buy for yourself and then self-impose rules about only opening one of the little boxes each day until Christmas, which is a day when you hang out with your family and open bigger presents.
Let me be clear: it’s great to show your loved ones that you appreciate them, but if you are not doing this because of the awe you feel at the fact that God literally saved your life by giving the best gift of all, then wait until a secular holiday or find a day that is special to you instead. I’m not saying you shouldn’t give gifts or buy things or make your environment comfortable and pretty. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t say you are celebrating the birth of Christ if you are actually celebrating good feelings and commercialism.
So why am I offended by the view of advent calendars as just boxes in boxes with cool little things inside that hype people up for Christmas Day? (And yes, I am offended.)
Because Advent isn’t about you or me.
Advent isn’t about stuff.
Advent isn’t about decorating a tree (which I could write another post about), falling in love, or reconnecting with a part of yourself that you left behind in childhood. It’s a fine time for all of those things, but they are not the purpose.
Advent, while a season of anticipation, is not about anticipating the gifts I will get on Christmas Day or even the hope that I will make my family happy with the gifts I picked out for them.
Advent is about remembering that no one involved in Christ’s birth had things easy.
The church tradition (especially in more liturgical denominations) assigns a theme to each of the four weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace. Each of these themes is grounded in scripture and its place in the prophecy, birth, and life of Christ. With this context, gift-giving is not about what I will receive or how I will feel afterward. Family traditions are not just there to be fun (or boring).
Advent calendars are meant to remind us of this truth. My personal favorite is one that I have had as long as I can remember: a picture of the Nativity (fictionalized, but you can see the truth of it under the clean and softened depiction), and each of the numbered flaps opens to reveal a tiny picture and a verse of prophecy about Jesus. You probably do not need a special calendar to remind you when December 25 is, but we all could use a daily reminder to focus on why we are celebrating this day and in this season. I don’t see how a new action figure, pair of socks, or candy can do this, especially on their own. Maybe if the candy entices you to open each day and the wrapper or door has a bit of the Christmas story on it.
It’s not that the things themselves are bad. It’s the fact that an advent calendar is something so special to the way that many Christians celebrate one of the two most sacred holidays. Now people in the toy, candy, and who knows what other industries have turned the idea of an advent calendar into a cheap, disposable gimmick which feeds the cycle of increasing impatience and uses things to attempt to satiate intangible needs with baubles.
Stop commercializing things that are faith-centered. Stop saying you celebrate Christmas if you don’t care about Christ. Stop putting cultural Christianity on a pedestal while disrespecting the Bible.
I’m tired of people saying they love this day that is so important and special, but then doing things that do not align at all with the historic, religious foundations of Christmas. Maybe I’m a bit like Charlie Brown, burnt out by commercialization while I work to make my place in the world. I’ll leave you with the moral from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which itself doesn’t quite get over the cultural Christianity view of Christmas but is on its way:
Until the next chapter,
If you would like to read more about Advent calendars and related topics from a variety of opinions (some I agree with and some I do not), check out the following: