If you've read me before, you know that I work retail, and if you have ever shopped in your life, you know that we have descended into our busy season, Christmas. Now, I don't mind being busy, but the Christmas shopping season is out of control.
Even as I doubt that anyone would disagree that American Christmas has become far too commercialized and sensationalized, I do think that we, as Americans, are unprepared to execute the solution to our little Christmas problem: to change ourselves and the way we celebrate this holiday, and impose that change on our children and families, for their own good and ours.
In my experience, the happiest Christmas shoppers, the ones who have enough holiday cheer to spread around, are the ones who make this holiday the easiest on themselves. I remember one customer vividly: I watched the girl at the register next to me ring up a polished, polite, and well-mannered elderly woman who purchased nothing more than a handful of gift cards, ten dollars each. The customer looked at her cashier and said: "That's all my shopping done! Merry Christmas, dear!" And walked out of the store with a smile on her face.
I admire that woman. She refuses to stress herself out for the sake of an abstract concept like 'Perfect Holiday.' She will not be tortured by a battle to win her family's love and approval with the 'Perfect Gift.' She will not be stifled by burdensome, unwanted 'Tradition' in her celebration. She will have some money left over for bills in January. And I guarantee she has comfort and joy aplenty at Christmastime, because she passed it on to us, strangers she may never see again, but touched forever nonetheless.
We can all be this free at Christmas. We can all take a break from buying too much, eating too much, drinking too much, and doing too much. No one is making you spend time with people you hate or fear. No one is making you stress yourself out trying to be perfect, trying to force meaning, trying too hard to make too much of what amounts to a baby's birthday party.
"Oh, that's blasphemy, BC! Jesus is the reason for the season!" You say. Actually, most of our Christmas traditions have pagan origins, and there is nothing in the Bible saying that we must celebrate the birth of the savior.
I could go on and on about the horrible rude customers at Christmastime. I could complain about how much more messy and entitled and snotty and demanding and crazy everyone gets at this time of year. I could tell some stories. Because I get a twist in my gut every time Christmas rolls around. There is no wonder in having merchandise, money, pens, bags and anything else you can think of snatched out of your hands by ungrateful strangers. There is no joy in getting yelled at because you ran out of a particular item that no one could have predicted would be popular. There is no goodwill toward men in having to help a customer who is proud of herself (Proud of herself!) for cutting in line ahead of all the other customers.
So if you are going to cite religious reasons for going above and beyond at Christmastime, you had damn well better watch your behavior. If you're going to parade yourself all over town in a loud sweater declaring that we all have to say 'Merry Christmas' instead of 'Happy Holidays' then you better be handing out free hot chocolate and smiles while you do it. If you are going to buy nothing but religious-themed Christmas cards, and make sure everyone knows about it, you better be really nice to your cashier. If you're going to dive deeply into shopping, baking, decorating, and hosting, then everyone you come into contact with this holiday season better get the impression that you are having the time of your life; they better be happier that day for having met you and your Jesus. Because otherwise, you are doing your savior and his holiday a deep disservice. Otherwise, your witness is a total failure.
If your Christmas is about presents, tradition, or indulgence, just give up now and spare us all. And if your Christmas is about faith, then make sure it is about building up the faith of everyone around you by displaying the Christian values of kindness, self-control, and joy. Anything you do for Christmas that compromises your witness for Christ in the way that you interact with people around you, especially strangers, has to go.
Spread joy. Be kind. Experience wonder. If you can't do those things, then stay home. Stop ruining Christmas for the rest of us.