Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas marathon begins. Each Christmas always begins with the gayest of moods. Eggnog coffees and shakes are offered at our favorite franchises, the radio stations start playing that joyful holiday music filled with a little drummer boy, and the miracle of a talking snowman. There is red and green with mistletoe on our doors, and evergreen garnishing our living room floor. The smell of cookies, the overstocking of the year’s most popular toy, bells ringing, and a large elderly man in a red suit adorning our town square with presents and “ho ho ho’s.” Then on January first we crash, and not just because we stayed up all night watching Times Square drop a fire hazard of a disco ball to join in with hundreds of strangers singing a song no one knows the lyrics to. We crash because the marathon is finally over. I call it the holiday hangover, a feeling that even the strictest of prohibitionists experience. Those eggnog flavored beverages have now become part of our expanding midsection. The little drummer boy’s “pa rum pum pum pum” has become permanently imbedded in our brain, our beautiful decorations have become a daunting chore that we must accomplish before we discover that it’s April, and our Christmas lights are still up. We must return all that does not fit us, suit us, or fancy us. We must walk in the stores trying to avoid making contact with the bell ringers who, like our creditors, are hounding us for our emptied pockets. The holiday hangover leaves us with big bellies, penniless pockets, and ritual resolutions that will be broken by February. The stores have gone from red and green to blinding pink and red reminding us that the Christmas marathon may be over, but there are still many other races to run.
I hope I do not sound too critical. But what I am looking for is a real Christmas season. Unfortunately when people talk about getting to the true meaning of Christmas, they mean that we need to buy neon red lights that say “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” or must endlessly debate and defend saying “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays.” While Jesus may be the reason for the season, we must remember that lights and possessions are not. So how do we justify our satiation for acquiring possessions simply because there is a scripture passage embossed on it? And who cares how people greet you? ‘Holiday’ actually means “holy day” so it’s perfectly acceptable to use this phrase instead of “Merry Christmas.” So how do we get at the heart of Christmas? How do we avoid the inevitable holiday hangover that leaves us with not just exhaustion, but a sense of meaningless tradition? What is the reason? What is the purpose? What is the answer? I believe behind the meaningless tradition of Christmas we can find a meaningful tradition in the advent wreath.