The ghost of Christmas trashed

I’m a Christian and I hate Christmas.

I’m ashamed to admit it. After all, it celebrates the Incarnation; the moment that God makes good on His promise to save mankind by entering the world in the person of Jesus. God made flesh—pretty heavy and it’s something I’m grateful for. But, of all the holidays, Christmas is the one that I dread.

For the last couple years, I’ve been trying to figure out why I feel this way and haven’t had a good answer, until now. I realized it’s about tradition. To explain, I need to share a little of my story.

The 180 bootleg

I was born into a devout Roman Catholic family. We had plenty of tradition. No meat on Fridays, mass every Sunday, we dressed up to go to church, celebrated High Holy days like Easter and Christmas, made our sacraments (confirmation, confession, communion), and had a big Sunday lunch every week. Our working-class family was traditional in most every sense.

Our traditions connected me to Catholics across the globe, the believers that came before me for thousands of years, and to Western culture at large. I realize now that those traditions helped me know who I was because they included me in something bigger and deeper than myself.

But, all that came to an end in 1980 when my family left the Catholic Church.

I suspect my mother had reached her limit with the New Age nonsense and sexual revolution that our parish had been covertly promoting. Whatever the reason, we left Catholicism behind to become non-denominational Pentecostals.

That change was like doing a  180 bootlegger  on the freeway. One minute you’re tooling down the highway and everything is fine, the next is pure chaos.

Dead traditions

Ignoring the charismatic accoutrements of Pentecostalism—speaking in tongues, laying on of hands, fire and brimstone preaching—I need to address this particular fellowship’s approach to traditions.

You see, whenever they referred to traditions, they called them “dead traditions”. And, without going into a history lesson on the Christian church in America, I’ll just say that in their mind anything that reeked of repetition or history was dead; a kind of legalism that only lead to spiritual death.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

  • Saying a pre-written prayer, including the Our Father, a prayer given by Christ: Dead Tradition.
  • The writings of the ancient church fathers like Augustine, Ignatius, Justin Martyr: Dead Tradition.
  • Any formal church, including Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian: Chock full o’Dead Tradition.
  • Seminary: Dead Tradition.
  • Holidays: Dead Tradition.

All that was left was reading the Bible and going to church.

Lest you think I am angry about this or trying to slag this church, I’m not. I gained a great deal that’s helped me become the person I am today. But, the fact remains that this move away from Catholicism to Pentecostalism stripped me of the traditions I had grown up with.

To make matters worse, I later went through a phase the lasted close to 15 years where I further eschewed anything traditional. My wife and I even stopped going to a church building and started a very informal “house church”.

I think, like the Pentecostal church I had spent my teen years in, I was on a quest to find the purest, most original version of Christianity. My instinct was to get rid of what I saw as embellishments to the Faith. If the smells and bells of the Catholic Church were supposedly frivolous, then clearly things like an expensive building, paid clergy, and sitting in rows were simply an extension of Dead Tradition. Or so I thought.

This is how it happened

As I reflect back, I realize that every time I shed some form of tradition, I lost something valuable. I lost the ages of accumulated meaning built up by the generations that came before me. And, because things like holidays had been stripped bare, they lost their richness and even their deeper meaning.

And this is how I came to hate Christmas. It wasn’t purposeful and there isn’t anything about the true meaning of the holiday I find offensive. In fact, it’s just the opposite. But, by stripping away all the things about Christmas that Western society had bequeathed me—the beauty, the message, the build up, the hope, the fulfillment of prophecy—all I was left with was crass commercialization.

Christmas, for me, had become a meaningless zoo and that’s what I’d come to hate.

Unwitting no more

Lydia and I moved to the Deep South well over a year ago. One of the things that I have been struck by is the sense of tradition here. Folks value their heritage. It shows in the little things. For instance, young people respond with “Yes, Sir” and “No, Ma’am”, a tradition of respecting their elders. A visitor to your home will send a thank-you card afterwards, a tradition of gratitude and gentility.

Don’t get me wrong, the South has its problems. But, they know who they are and this Yankee is convinced a big reason is because of their traditions. You often hear people say things like, “That’s not how we do things here”, when commenting on outsider behaviors—a nod to tradition.

We live in a Post-Modern world which has for decades worked earnestly to unravel, deconstruct, and reduce every tradition until each one becomes meaningless, or in some cases, forbidden. I have been an unwitting victim of that project.

Not anymore. I am now on a quest to rediscover traditions.

I’m not doing this by inventing my own, but rather I’m looking for the places where, and the ways how, I can embrace the established traditions. Of course, not every tradition is valuable or good. But, there are many which have stood the test of time and are rooted in truth. These are the traditions that give us strength, that give us meaning, and show us how to live. These are the traditions I am working to embrace.

And, next year I am going all in on Christmas—traditional Christmas—starting with the celebration of Advent, going to church, reading the Christmas story in the Gospels, singing carols, and even hosting a Christmas Feast.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and all the goodness that Christmas holds.