It’s a year old, but Krista Tippet’s blog post, “Why I Don’t Do Christmas,” is popping up on my Facebook feed this week. I’ve read it over a few times, and I can’t shake the negativity of it.
Tippet’s objections to Christmas are perfectly reasonable, laudable even. Obligatory gift giving feeds a commercial machine that is swallowing up all of our cultural meaning-making sensibilities, and the meaning of the Holy Day is badly distorted by sentimentality. Any one for whom the Christmas story is faith forming should resist those distortions in their own December celebrations.
But these aren’t new problems. Cultural voices at least as old as Dickens have bemoaned materialism at Christmas. We’ve all rolled our eyes at Christmas movies that celebrate the “spirit” of Christmas, whatever that is. I’ve spent my life opposing the cultural mangling of Jesus’ birth narrative and insisting on a near sectarian rehearsal of the REAL story, but this year it feels somehow different. This year, “I Don’t Do Christmas” is getting under my skin.
Not doing Christmas means pitting yourself against a cultural celebration, because, well, they’re not doing it right. That feels kinda judgy to me in a way that’s not super helpful in bridging the gap between people of faith and people of no faith, a gap that is widening every day. Planting our feet in a posture of opposition to joy feels like a mistake.
We can do Christmas–the presents, the singing, the pageants–as participants in a culture that badly needs rituals of celebration, what with the threat of climate change, mass shootings, and global terrorism. So many Western Christmas norms were distortions from the start, were borrowed from earlier non-Christian cultural conventions, that it seems petty to pee in the Christmas punch because our cultural contemporaries aren’t getting it right.
The Bible doesn’t even get it right. The gospel writer Luke sets his birth story against the backdrop of a census taken while a guy named Quirinius was governor of Syria, an assertion that historians and Biblical scholars alike have long noted doesn’t line up with the historical record.
Yet thoughtful people can live constructively in the space between the ideal and the reality. People of faith can mark the religious significance of Christ’s birth in our churches and homes while still attending ugly sweater parties. Religious integrity does not demand we not do Christmas.
Tippet’s antidote to all the things that gall her about the Yuletide is to do compassionate and substantive things with the season like donate clothing to homeless teenagers. Yes, more of that please. I hope she’ll reconsider not doing Christmas, though, so that more people might be persuaded to follow her lead.
In the end, we need more thoughtful, faithful people like Tippet at the Christmas party.