Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes andbreakable stars*
More than 60 years ago Beat Generation poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti penned a jeremiad decrying the commercialism and secularity of the Christmas season. He deftly skewered everything from “gilded Christmas trees” to “Sears Roebuck creches” to a “fat handshaking stranger in a red flannel suit and a fake white beard [who] went around passing himself off as some sort of North Pole saint.”
This was radical stuff for 1958. Ferlinghetti clearly relished the opportunity to provoke a culture that functionally mocked the original narrative of Jesus’ birth while “bearing sacks of Humble Gifts from Saks Fifth Avenue for everybody’s imagined Christ child.”
Six decades later his once-controversial words seem touchingly quaint, for we have new and greater excesses to bemoan. Amazon vans circle endlessly through neighborhoods crammed with inflatable Clauses and wide-eyed reindeer. Christmas travelers, now freed from most travel restrictions, overwhelm the airport gates, and pay amazing sums to taste that “homemade pumpkin pie” about which we hear in endless loops of holiday music. Talking-head economists worry aloud on all-news channels about declines in bricks-and-mortar Christmas sales, and the effect that online purchasing may have on the GDP. We almost yearn for yesterday’s excesses, which now seem simpler, quieter, less frenetic.
“This is the perfect moment for reinvention and renewal.”
Which makes this the perfect moment for reinvention and renewal.
Instead of hoisting the white flag of surrender to the enormous industry of sight and sound and senselessness that Christmas has become, I propose five simple things we each may do to reclaim some piece—or peace—of all we’ve lost. Like all successful resistance movements, this one draws on things easily in reach for most of us. No trips to dying malls are necessary. No long hours are needed for comparison shopping on dueling websites. The numbers required can be counted on one hand.
Read the Nativity story again—aloud (Luke 1:5-2:12). Read it to family, yes, but first to yourself. Declutter your overheated, elvish imagination by hearing yourself repeat the narrative of Joseph and Mary, of sheep and shepherds, of angels chorusing and a wondrous Child asleep. The place you live will grow more stable.
Make a meal from fresh ingredients. Eat it slowly, alone or with others, savoring the goodness of God-given food. For one day—even just one meal—focus on what’s tangible, the sense-enlivening experience of fashioning what you will eat. Whether rich or savory, it will be sweeter than honey in the honeycomb.
Hold a child—one of yours, or one of anybody’s—long enough to feel the quiet rhythm of contentment, and find again that place where you can re-learn trust. The door to Jesus’ kingdom always opens to the place where children rest, and trust, and play.
Sing a carol that you love, perhaps one long forgotten or unheard beneath the din that now fills each December. Note all the rhymes and imagery, choosing to sing it alone, with others, or at church—but only when your heart is full.
Pray for the people God has given you. These may be family, friends, or persons that still-stirring Spirit has pressed upon your thought. Bring up their names, their joys, their struggles, and their needs before “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, NRSV). Your prayers are still the greatest gifts you give them.
We need not charge the barricades, nor thump the pulpit, nor howl at waste to reclaim Christmas from the culture of excess. The best resistance has quiet, joyful rhythms, where we refuse big numbers and big noise. The pitchfork of this revolution might be a dinner fork, a hymnal, a grandchild, or an hour in prayer.
I wish you joy.
* Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Christ Climbed Down,” A Coney Island of the Mind (New York: New Directions, 1958).