In recent years, there has come to be a cultural challenge to the sappy sentimentality of Christmas, a challenge that focuses on those excluded from it. I am thinking of filmic Christmas scenes such as that in in Lethal Weapon, blues-style songs like “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot,” and even the increasingly popular “Blue Christmas” services. As someone who has known depression, I can sympathize. However, I can’t help thinking that the church discovered this long ago, and if we followed the liturgical calendar better, there would be less need for such protest. My priest at our home church used to like to point out that it is in Christmas season that we commemorate the martyrdom of Stephen and the slaughter of the innocents — Rachel weeping for her children is, I think, a stake in the heart of any superfluous sentimentalism. In addition to this, the season we call Advent used to be a time of fasting similar to lent, and this season of fasting is still observed in the Orthodox tradition. The space such lenten sobriety might open for those experiencing a “blue Christmas” is evident in some of the songs we sing around Advent — “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” in particular comes to mind.
For the next 23 days, I will be posting reflections on Christmas and Christmas culture as a way of counting down Advent. My posts will orbit about two themes: the primary reason for Christmas, the coming of Immanuel (God with us); and the odd and bizarre way that Christmas culture relates to this advent. These posts are informed by G.K. Chesterton’s analysis of Christmas and Dickens. See Chesterton on Christmas in my notes, from his biography of Dickens.
Next in the series: Christmas Mythology, particularly Santa Claus