An Early Xmas Venti
You read somewhere online that Christians are mad about coffee cups. You already despise a certain breed of religious person, and this seems to fit that profile. You and a hundred others you follow rant about those nuts and their damn cup obsession, eventually blaming them for not doing more for the homeless, for trying to run your life and ruin your relationships, and for that one pastor who molested that boy.
3 days later you realize that at no point have you actually seen or heard anyone mad at a cup (unless you went to the trouble to track it down as part of your outrage over what the hell is wrong with those people). You decide it doesn't matter because screw them, you're an enlightened scientific type who refuses to believe crazy things without evidence.
Unless it's a massive uprising over a coffee cup. That you accept on faith, because... Christians.
The most popular idealized version of ‘Christmas’ utilized by seasonal TV shows and movies, and aspired to by families who’d like very much to consider themselves ‘traditional’, was birthed in the early 19th century through the writing of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens.
Christmas trees, colorfully wrapped presents, family festivities and such, weren’t without precedent, but neither were they what normally came to mind every time it snowed in prior centuries. And those songs which seem so timeless now – perhaps even a bit quaint? Few existed before the 1800s. Many of the most popular are less than 100 years old.
In other words, travesties like “Run, Run Rudolph” or those Jingle Bells Dogs have just as much historical credence as “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
I know, right?
To further carve the ‘X’ out of ‘X-mas’, non-traditionalists are quick to remind us of the pagan roots of many yuletide traditions - throwing around terms like ‘winter solstice’ to explain why we shouldn’t care whether or not Target uses a glowing plastic baby Jesus in their displays.
But knowing the origins of something doesn’t automatically reshape our emotional expectations and ideals. We are not a people known for clinging to our own history, let alone that of the grander human story. Trivia from 2,000 years ago isn’t likely to compel us to give up our caroling, forsake our eggnog, or burn our DVDs of Scrooged, Elf, or the Die Hard Trilogy.
Our experiences and holiday yearnings aren’t about objective history or Druidic roots. They’re about hopes and feelings and stretching ourselves higher than we usually reach. They’re about redemption and clinging passionately to a faith which seems less and less generally understood with each passing year.
And yes, for many, they’re about the Baby Jesus and God becoming man to redeem us from our sins. Go ahead, godless and truculent – laugh it up. Your day is com-
Er… I mean, we just wish you could see the true joy of the Reason for the Season! Or something.
I’m not looking to defend an ‘Old Fashioned Christmas’ or to lament the cesspool of humanity that is Black Friday. Spend your holiday with family and feasting, in prayer and meditation, or naked on the couch Netflix-binging – it’s your call. This is ‘Merica!
But I’d respectfully suggest that the aches and fears some have over the ongoing de-Christing of the season may not be proof they are fascists, or oppressors, or Fox News morning show hosts (except the ones who are). It may simply be that they feel like something special is being taken away from them for reasons they don’t entirely understand.
Imagine that every winter, your homeowners association wants to make sure its members are prepared for the extended cold. Based on calculations you’ve never thought to question, a rep shows up at your door most years with a hot pizza, a pamphlet on staying warm, and around $400 in cash for groceries, electric bills, or unexpected expenses during the freeze.
One season they change the algorithm – something about family size, income, and who knows what else. That year your rep brings you a frozen pizza, a pamphlet, and $300 to get you through. It’s still appreciated, and it’s not like you rely on it to survive.
The next winter it’s $250. The following year they simply email you a PDF of the pamphlet. Soon there’s no pizza at all, just coupons for Papa Murphy’s. The total resources are still being allocated, but they seem to be going to people who haven’t lived in the neighborhood all that long – people who don’t always follow the unwritten rules of the community.
You’re still receiving more than you’ve paid in, and more than most neighborhoods do for their people. But as the rep hands you that $200 and the coupons, you feel violated. Taken advantage of. Not because you’re going without; because you’d grown so accustomed to having so much more.
Now imagine that a small, but angry and vocal, vanload of outsiders show up chanting and ranting about those nasty, hateful people trying to take everything you own and ruin the wonderful block party mentality which prompted the assistance to begin with.
It’s easy to see the absurdity from a distance. Even easier to succumb to fear and frustration when you’re cold and expected pizza.
The solution, at least in the allegory, is to find and get to know those new neighbors. Learn their stories. Chances are, given the opportunity, you’d have shared with them anyway. You’re not a bad person – you just… didn’t see it coming.
And it’s easy to confuse what you’re not being given with what you have and don’t wish to sacrifice.
‘Less’ looks and feels a whole lot like ‘loss,’ after all.
As to those of you rejoicing every time another Baby Jesus is kicked off the courthouse lawn, keep in mind that feeling first and rationalizing later is hardly exclusive to people of faith. It’s human nature – even for you I-heard-it-from-Neil-deGrasse-Tyson types.
You don’t have to accept others’ perceptions, but your blood pressure might go down a bit if you assumed the less-than-worst of those expressing frustration. Sure, it would be nice if reason and research won the day more often, but how many of us choose a spouse, an outfit, or even a restaurant only after a day in the library and a pro/con spreadsheet? We’re simply not that detached from our own perceptions and experiences.
I’m not sure we’d want to be.
So Eunice wishes people still said ‘Merry Christmas’, and Bob forwards that urban legend about candy canes representing Jesus and his cleansing blood. None of them took part in the Crusades. Very few of them ever sent Falwell money. Most of them have never yelled ugly things at anyone different than themselves.
And virtually none of them – almost zero - ever gave the tiniest thought to the design on Starbucks coffee cups.
Happy Holidays soon. And "Merry Christmas" starting in a few weeks as well – but only if it really bugs you.