Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reimagining Christmas Traditions

The holiday is season is rich with traditions. I can think back to my childhood and pretty easily recall the various activities we participated in as a family, some key gifts I got, family dinner, church services (most notably red sweaters), Christmas trees and decorating them, sugar cookies, Santa, etc. I could go on and on.

I often wonder what early Christians did for Advent, for Christmas. My guess is that what I described above wasn’t really part of celebrating the birth of Jesus in the early days. Contemplating this sent me down a path of critical discernment about Christmas traditions, and specifically what Christmas traditions I wanted to lead my new family in. My goal in setting forth new traditions for Christmas included: presenting a prophetic alternative to mainstream American Christmas culture, maintaining the aspects of celebration (but also reflection), representing incarnation (both in message and deed), and downright fun. I wanted to share with you some (new) Walsh Christmas traditions. Maybe this will help spark some imagination, maybe you will (continue) to think I have lost my way, or a mixture of both!

Having the homeless over to our house on Christmas Day. Jesus once said, “When you have a party (dinner), do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” (Luke 14). When I read this passage previously, I could only think of college parties I attended or at the very most going to feed the homeless (please notice the seemingly small, but huge difference between bringing people into your home that are poor, etc. as opposed to going to them). Then I got to thinking, what greater party do we have as Christians than celebrating the Incarnation on Christmas Day? Surely, this yearly party we have with friends, brothers, relatives (the people Jesus said not to ask) would qualify as a prophetic time to open up our homes to the poor, maimed, lame, and blind. Right?

My wife and I have since invited a couple of homeless people over to our house for Christmas Day. We are excited and anticipate a rich time of solidarity with one another in celebration of Incarnation. I want them to stay the night as well, sleeping in our bed (sorry honey if you are reading this for the first time…still need to get my wife’s permission!!) while we sleep elsewhere in the house so they can enjoy the warmth and comfort, if even for one night, that we are afforded daily.

Redefining family. Jesus also did this. Christmastime has always been about family, and that is good and should be honored…however, I am convicted that family through relationship with Jesus is redefined. Now the poor….our neighbors….our co-workers….are all family. I want to teach Judah that our visitors for Christmas Day aren’t just visitors, but that we are all family. I will try to pound that message home to my son and purposefully try to reflect that conviction in my life as well...redefining family. See what Jesus says about family here: Mark 3:32-34 and Mark 10:29-30.

No Santa. Not much explanation needed here, as many of our friends and family are doing the same thing. Though this could bring of immense joy for Judah, waking up Christmas morning to find a stocking filled with presents, it is not worth the price of deflecting glory from Jesus. This is something we feel convicted on but understand that other Christians feel differently and that is ok.

“Advent Conspiracy” Gifts. We decided last year that Judah didn’t need more toys for Christmas. He has plenty. He has all he needs. But many kids out there do not. We asked family and friends to give to charity, or make something, etc. instead of sending Judah (toy) gifts. As he gets older, he may resent us for not allowing him to have gifts for, we are thinking that we can make sure people aren’t just getting him random toys and unnecessary things, but give him a handmade/meaningful gift that focuses more on the relationship and the giver than the item itself. We have also contemplated not doing gifts on Christmas Day, but rather New Years. But that may be a bit too much….I will let you know where we land. We also decided last year to give gifts to the less fortunate on behalf of our nephews and nieces. We know that they will get plenty of gifts from others, so we decided that giving a gift to a needy child or needy people on behalf of them would show our nephews and nieces that they impacted the lives of others. Are we sounding really crazy yet??

Rest assured, we haven’t changed everything…we still have a real Christmas tree with ornaments, play Christmas music at home, decorated cookies, have candy all over, go caroling, and to church…we have still maintained many traditions. However, I am ready to make some changes and the ones mentioned above are moving us in a different, counter-cultural direction for Christmas. What is left to be seen is if I am simply Scrooge, or if this is something fresh and meaningful. As my wife and I discussed all of these things, we both concluded it is a matter of the heart…and we are moving forward only if our motivations and passions accurately reflect the grace and calling of God. Please pray for us.


J Bates said...

...while we sleep elsewhere in the house so they can enjoy the warmth and comfort, if even for one night, that we are afforded daily.

The problem with Christianity then (2010) and today is that it smacks of a moral self-centeredness in it's effort to be good and kind. My thought is that you really aren't doing this for the homeless persons who were invited to your house, you were doing this so you could feel good about doing it. That's the long term lack of impact of do-gooders. Once they do something in their mind that is good, they think more highly of themselves. It was for you much more than it was for these people going through an unfortunate life crisis. You use the phrase: "that we are afforded"... Don't you mean that God has blessed you with? And the homeless people, for whatever reason, are not blessed like you are? It's interesting (though this is an old post) how many Christian people cover up their trail, try not to really speak the truth that they perceive, and that to which, when you boil it down, THE THEOLOGY THEY HOLD ULTIMATELY leads....moralistic neurosis is what guides the hand of most Christians who never let their right hand know what their left hand is doing. When we get the inside confused with the outside, and can no longer experience and reflect on the mystery in which we are all involved, we will have no other choice than to boil the world down into haves and have-nots, blessed and unblessed, sinner and saint, ins and outs, ups and downs. The world is trapped in dualism. So, did the homeless people linger longer than one day? Did they wonder why your teasing generosity ran out?

Ordinary Radical said...

Hey J Bates, thanks for the comments. For what its worth, I now live in Kolkata, India amongst the poorest of the poor - right alongside them. What are you doing with your life?