A Serious Question About Celebrating Christmas

A few days ago I mildly criticized kitschmas. One of the points I made was that kitsch doesn’t measure up to Camp because Camp tries to be serious while kitsch doesn’t even bother.

Thus, it seems, Camp can give us a strange sort of just pleasure in that we can get the point even while the producer of the Camp doesn’t, while kitsch only gives us pleasure if we are the ones missing the point. Maybe.

So I’ve been thinking a little since then about why Christmas tends toward kitsch.

Let me draw an incident from my life and see if this serves any purpose. The church I attend now celebrates communion on Christmas morning at 9:30, same time as Sunday morning.

No church I attended previously did so; at least, not so far as I recall.

So we weren’t in the habit, as a family, of going to church to celebrate the birth of Christ. We did it at home with cinammon rolls, ostentatiously wrapped gifts, a tree out of Thomas Kincade or Currier and Ives, and all the normal Christmas trappings.

What, Karen asked me, are we going to do this year?  

I found myself immediately confronted with a rather ironic situation. Would we go to church to celebrate communion on Christ-Mass, or would we stay home and celebrate Christ-Mass with our family.

You might ask, is Christmas a family holiday or a Church holiday?

Suddenly I realized that all my life I had been treating Christmas as a semi-secular holiday, personalized, oriented toward the family.

What do you think? Is that appropriate? Do you think that tendency might move us toward kitsch because we want the holiday for our sake, rather than for the sake of the One who dwells in unapproachable light but veiled Himself with flesh and blood?

Christmas Traditions

Before me: Mr. Browkoff (sp?) coldly murdered by Tooty, The Most Horrible.

Behind me: the roof collapsing from the weight of snow, my son Andrew taunting his brother Matthew for the shoddy craftsmanship.

It’s Christmas in the Kern household! With a little luck I’ll be able to post a picture of the gingerbread snowman created by my artist daughter Katie and some pictures of the gingerbread houses they’ve assembled as part of our annual Christmas contest. Meanwhile, Meet Me in St. Louis is playing on the television, Judy Garland beating up John Truett in a very un-1903 fashion.

I have mixed feelings about this movie, but it’s something of a standard. It does remind us that Christmas is coming. And with all the moving my family has had to do, we can relate to it.

What movies do you like to watch at Christmas? Our others include:

  • It’s A Wonderful Life
  • The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • The Nativity Story
  • While You Were Sleeping
  • Elf
  • Little Women
  • Joyeux Noel

Sometimes we watch

  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas

My kids don’t like the old standards, like the Little Drummer Boy, Rudolph, and all those. What do you think of them?

“Never mind what happens to the family; at a time like this, talk about the chickens.” Great line.

How do you hand out the Christmas gifts?

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

On Christmas morning, when I was a boy, if my memory is accurate, my three brothers and I would wait for permission to burst from our rooms and rush to the Christmas tree and rip open our presents all at once. Pretty soon there’d be a mess of gifts (four boys with a few gifts each) spread around the living room, some candy, some toys, some books, some clothes. Then we’d pick the one we liked best and play with it, sometimes together, sometimes alone. It was a pretty high energy hectic time.

I also remember that strange Christmas feeling of disappointment. Probably too much hope was placed in the potential of the gifts to bring us happiness, so while we usually liked them they couldn’t deliver. Isn’t that life?

But I think another reason we, or at least I, often felt that disappointment was, to speak metaphorically, because we ate them too fast. We do it differentlywith our children.

Since David was born in 1986, we have drawn out our Christmas celebrations a lot more. Especially on Christmas morning. The night before Karen and I fill the kids stockings with an orange, a magazine, and a bunch of candy and maybe a little toy or something like that. They can dig into that as soon as they wake up.

Then we all gather for a big Christmas breakfast, with cinammon buns, grapefruits, eggs (I like mine soft-boiled), maybe some cereal, bacon, and a spot of tea and fruit juice. After breakfast, we read the Christmas story together. THEN we go to the tree and open our gifts. Like this:

Andrew, the youngest, goes to the tree and picks up a gift more or less randomly. He gives it to Karen, who is seated in her majesty on a high and lofty throne, which usually will be a dining room chair brought into the living room. She reads the name on the gift and that person receives it from her. We haven’t successfully introduced the tradition of grovelling before her, but it’s an appealing idea.

That person opens his gift, we all ooh and aah and he passes it around. Then it is placed in his pile and Andrew picks up another one.

As you can imagine, this takes rather a while, sometimes filling the whole morning. But it tastes so good. Everything is savored and appreciated. Everything is noticed and attended to. Instead of a mad passionate dash, it is more of a savored rational pleasure – the kind that can be sustained and truly enjoyed.

I, of course, still put too much weight on gifts, expecting each of them to usher in a new world order and complete satisfaction in my soul. So Christmas still depresses me. But that’s just my problem. At least I haven’t passed that problem on to my kids!

I’d love to hear from you about how you do Christmas gifts. Who is the center of attention? How do you distribute them? Any cool little quirks? Share the joy!