Every Christmas, people talk about the problem with Christmas. It's too stressful, obviously, and far too commercial. It's too religious for some, and not religious enough for others. The reason for the season locks horns with happy holiday banality, the ultimate Santa vs. Jesus pay-per-view. On top of that, the shadow of December 25 extends too far in both directions, from Thanksgiving well into the New Year. How long before we're putting up Holiday Trees in August and taking them down around Easter (that is, the vernal equinox)? Everybody's got a problem with Christmas these days.
But not me.
Here I am in nostalgia's thrall, giddy with anticipation. I'm not lamenting the packed shopping malls or the traffic, or the inordinate (and no doubt unhealthy) material expectations of the young. I'm not railing against the cabal of marketing ghouls who transformed St. Nick into an end-of-year Sugar Daddy, the masses living beyond their means, or the secular puritans who insist on bowdlerizing the holiday soundtrack. Strangely enough, in spite of my reflexive cynicism, the only thing I resent is the de rigueur condemnations that go hand-in-hand with the celebrations these days, all the apologies we feel we have to make for enjoying ourselves.
I refuse to sit through the human comedy without cracking a smile. I refuse to define myself not by what I love, but by what I condemn. There's such a gravitational pull on our holiday rhetoric, forcing us to qualify our joy. I want peace on earth, good will to men, and forget about all the rest. Like those brow-beaten, shell-shocked soldiers of Christmas 1914, I want to abandon the trenches for a spell and sing a hymn in no man's land. And if that pure impulse has to be commodified, if the Christmas Truce dumbs down to "Snoopy and the Red Baron," so be it. I'll take my pleasures where I find them. Merry Christmas, my friend.
The pressure on artists to think correctly is enormous. We want to have right opinions, so our work gets the nod from the right people. I suspect sometimes the problem with Christmas is the problem of sophistication itself. We can't experience things in their simplicity for fear of opening ourselves up to criticism. So we hang our lights and wrap our gifts while issuing solemn declarations against consumerism, greed, and the North Pole. We signal our awareness of things we don't really fathom and can't possibly change, as if pinning a rhetorical ribbon on the lapel serves as a Tetzel-like indulgence, covering our backsides in the event of holiday cheer.
And now I'm doing it, criticizing the critics, being cynical about cynicism. Enough of that. I have presents to wrap. And to open, for that matter. I'm in nostalgia's thrall, giddy with anticipation. There's something under the tree with my name on it, and I don't have to invoke a pious gloss about the the ultimate Christmas gift to feel happy about that. (Except I just did.) Enough of that, too. Have a Merry Christmas. I'll sign off with my favorite holiday hymn:
J. Mark Bertrand is the author of Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Crossway Books). He blogs at his own site jmarkbertrand.com, The Rethinking Worldview Blog, and The Bible Design and Binding Blog. You can also catch him at his new blog about the literary life -- Write About Now.