So here’s a Christmas story for you.
Growing up, every year we would pick up our highly anticipated real Christmas tree from our local church and put it on the roof of our mini, then my dad would carefully arrange the tree in an old oil can with piece of bricks to stabilise it.
We would then put on 2 Lp albums on at the insistence of my sister and I; Boney M’s Christmas Album, and a Tijuana Christmas (Both still excellent choices).
Then as we decorated the tree, we would sing along. My personal favourite was Police Never Die. You are not familiar?
Let me refresh your memory:
“Police never die, police never die, police never die, mucho do wando police to die, I want to wish you a merry Christmas..I want to wish you a merry Christmas…I want to wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart…”
It took me YEARS to realise that I was very mistaken in the lyrical content.
I still prefer my version.
When one of my cousins was still young, with the clever idea of making her own presents at Christmas, she stole her father’s mouse pad from the computer in June and hid it for six months, then gave it to him on Christmas Day. I still remember his reaction; “Oh, there it is!”, and then thanked his daughter, even though he had replaced the item months before after it went missing….
The point of these stories? The things that we love, the traditions that we hold to, may be slightly less than perfect. They may even be a little ridiculous. The Christmas hats from your crackers may look stupid on your head. You may have to drive all the way across town to travel to a family gathering. You may have to brave the busy shops more than once to get that last minute present. You also receive a present that you don’t like.
Does it matter? No.
One of the things that I learned in my studies of camps is that Rituals, when they are understood, are POWERFUL. They are the ways by which we understand our culture, our family, even our faith. We understand much more through participation than we ever do by observation. I’ll say that again.
We understand much more through participation than we ever do by observation.
This is not to say that traditions can actually cause pain. This happens when they are prioritised over what they are supposed to represent; at Christmas, this can often occur when shopping for gift giving overwhelms a genuine spirit of generosity. Or a forced-fake smile at family gatherings required even when there is difficulty in the relationships. Or when the festivities remind you of people that are no longer with us. Or when we crowd the calendar with so much stuff that we don’t even get any time to enjoy the ‘fun’.
The thing is though, these practices are the ones that form the strongest memories. I am grateful to my parents who, when we were young, tried to convince us that Santa came early to our house because we opened our presents on Christmas eve. I am thankful to my mum who gave us Christmas decorations each year so that one day we would have our own collection. I admire my Dad for showing excitement when he was given another pair of socks and a jar of chocolate coated peanuts. I am thankful to my aunties for making cucumber and tomato salads every year because they remind me of my Nanna at Christmas. and I am really really thankful for a God who decided to participate in my life by sending his son to be born for me.
Love is born
With a dark and troubled face
When hope is dead
And in the most unlikely place
Love is born:
Love is always born.
Michael Leunig, the very talented cartoonist of the above once said;
“the search for the sublime may sometimes have a ridiculous beginning”.
I love that. even when our attempts at the sublime, the sacred, the wonderful, the memorable, are ridiculous, are awkward, or even are a disaster, they must be attempted.
Your family needs it. You need it. And at the risk of sounding ridiculous myself, I think our country and world needs it.
So that’s why I will always push for a real tree (even though the needles clog up the vacuum cleaner) because it marks the real beginning of the season in my household. It’s why I will enlarge my collection of Christmas music every year to listen to. It’s why I will spend time searching for that perfect gift. It’s also why I want to make an effort with my family during this time because I want to know them as actual people, not just some randoms that I’m related to.
Maybe even if it’s ridiculous, try to really celebrate this year. Redeem the traditions in your life and your family. Attempt the sublime.
You can even sing a chorus of Police Never Die if it gets you in the mood….