I can be kind of a grump about Christmas. Truly, I am a grump about a lot of things, but the older I get the less I like Christmas. Somehow it never seems to live up to expectations, even when I try to keep my expectations low. In Adam Gopnik’s excellent book Winter he explains that Christmas is simultaneously a festival of reversal and renewal. So it is a turning upside down of all our expectations while at the same time a celebration of the continuation of the old order. He says something about how at Christmas the expectation is that everything will be the same and yet completely different this year. Oh my. Such wisdom from an agnostic writer. Because it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? After all the Incarnation is the fulfillment of a seemingly forgotten promise. And yet nothing about this savior is like it was supposed to be.
Anyways, I bake, go to Christmas parties, tell kids not to sing Feliz Navidad (the world’s worst Christmas song ever), and try to buy good presents. I try to keep up with my daily Advent readings. I try to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season, but then I get stressed because baking cookies is so much work and many of my gingerbread look (to quote my cousin, Rachel) “like the victims of a mad scientist.” And once again I am unequal to my Christmas expectations. I’ve even killed my two live trees (they were little, but they are dead).
The link to this entire T.S. Eliot poem is here. But I love these last few lines. The entire poem is a justification for allowing the childlike wonder of Christmas. This wonder must persist so that…
…before the end, the eightieth Christmas /(By ‘eightieth’ meaning whichever is the last)/ The accumulated memories of annual emotion/ May be concentrated into a great joy / Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion / When fear came upon every soul: / Because the beginning shall remind us of the end / And the first coming of the second coming.
Bonhoeeffer says it even more simply: “Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate runs the longing for the last Advent, when the word will be: ‘See, I am making all things new.'”
So in the end, it’s maybe it’s all right that Christmas doesn’t satisfy, since our longing is for the second coming. Or maybe I’m just trying to justify Christmas grumpiness.