09 December 2004

Ho ho ho

I understand the protests I've been hearing about the busyness and crassness of the Christmas season, but over the last few Christmas seasons I haven't actually experienced much of that overload myself. Maybe it is because I've somehow, without any sacrifice or heroism on my part, dropped out of the shopping culture. In our Portland, Oregon, neighborhood, the main sign of the season is the appearance of Christmas lights on a lot of the homes, and since there are few other ways to express our individuality in public to our neighbors, I rather like these displays.

Our family's response to the idiocy of television programming is not to turn it on. We seem to have arrived at the same response to the consumer culture. Our favorite gifts are books, which are relatively painless to obtain, and computer parts, which we buy from places such as ENU which seem immune to holiday glamor. One tradition I can't do without is having a Christmas tree, but we're fortunate enough to live a couple of blocks from Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, which sells Christmas trees in the church's parking lot. Once again this year, we bought a tree which I carried home on my back. More accurately, I had someone balance it on my back and shoulders, with my head deep inside the web of branches, and proceeded to walk home more or less by feel, aware that nothing of me was showing except my legs.

In some ways this season seems less stressful to me than the rest of the year, which is not what most of our friends report. Middle class and professional people in North America seem to accept a tacit understanding that we're not actually supposed to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but to become overextended and overscheduled. The reward is the ability to complain about it. And at times, I complain, too. Freelance writing has its peak periods as well as its saner moments. But that would be true without the holidays, which actually give a credible excuse for a time of lower productivity.

My fondest wish for the Christmas season each year is that the power of the name of Christ, so much more visible this time of year than normally, would ripple throughout society, including the sectors held most captive by the consumer culture, and touch people in ways they would never have expected. I love to imagine someone standing in a store, seeing the word "Christmas" on a sign or package or card, and suddenly seeing the word again in a new way. What is the nature of that name, how did it become so prominent, why did people pay so much attention to the baby who came to incarnate the promises of God? Could that little casual encounter with the word "Christ..." fall like a snowflake, a delicate asterisk, into their memory, ready to spark a connection the next time they meet one of his disciples? Of course if I remain too serenely and fastidiously separate from their world, I won't be the one they meet.

PS: Some perspective on holiday-season stress:

One of our friends in Baghdad included the following log in a recent dispatch:

The following is a typical day 12 hour section of one day in the past week:
5:00 AM Electricity On
7:00 AM Electricity Off
10:30 AM Four loud explosions, one being a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG)attack within ½ mile of our apartment.
11:10 AM Electricity On
12:30 PM Electricity Off
4:30 PM Electricity On
5:15 PM Electricity Off

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