Posted by: minnow | December 14, 2010

DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?

I loved Advent season as a child.  I loved the change from hymns to Christmas carols.  I loved seeing the manger scene set up both in our church and at home.  Advent was the one time of year I saw representative physical evidence of Jesus presence on earth.  As a child I did not understand the fear young Mary and Joseph must have felt.  I did not realize what filth was indicated by all the cute little animals of the nativity.  Nor did I grasp the symbolic significance of the  angels, shepherds, and wise men, the gifts given by the wise men, or historically what devastation would follow as Herod tried to kill the “new-born King”.  I learned about those details later in life.

Growing up the Christmas season was simple and wonderful.  It was truly about peace and joy as we sang about baby Jesus, exchanged gifts, and collected our dimes for U.N.I.C.E.F.  For my family it began the day after Thanksgiving with a family shopping trip in Spokane (where my grandparents lived and where we spent every Thanksgiving of my childhood) and lasted a whole month!  We had treats at Christmas we only got one time of year–my grandmother’s fudge, ribbon candy, lefsa, Aunt May’s Scottish shortbread, Russian wedding cakes, shrimp cocktail, and popcorn balls.  My dad’s mom always made my sister and me new flannel nighties and my mom’s brother’s family always sent us something unique from wherever he was stationed.

Every Christmas Eve my sister and I put out our cookies and milk for Santa.  (Funny he only wanted one cup of milk but two plates of cookies).  And, every Christmas morning our stocking would be filled with treats, a new toothbrush, a quarter and a piece of fruit.  I was truly the most blessed little girl in the whole world, even if we did have to wait until everyone was finished with brunch before we could open our presents.  As a parent I tried to recreate some of the magic I felt at Christmas time for my own children.  And, while I disappointed my mother by deciding not to lie about  Santa being real (She sent gifts to our children “from Santa and Mrs. Claus” in protest.) we as a family have managed to create some of our own fun traditions.  For example, everyone manages to add a little something to everyone else’s stocking.

I decided to write about my thoughts on Christmas and Advent in part because this month’s syncroblog topic was about Advent.  (I missed the deadline to post because I was swamped with school deadlines but check out some of the blogs from the list below if you want to see what others have been thinking).   The more pressing reason however, is because as an adult I have had a much more difficult time finding the joy and peace of this season than I did when I was a child.  For every radio rendition of Joy to the World I run into a real life obstacle to that joy.  Money is tight.  Obligation, duty, and a great deal of formality have replaced the fun of my extended family.  And, political correctness (especially in the public schools) has over taken cultural relevance and honest respect for difference.  As a society we avoid all but the secular expressions of the Christian Christmas, for example, and elevate Hanukkah beyond the point most Jewish communities practice it.  Cynically, both those behaviors seem more motivated by the almighty dollar than a legitimate sensitivity to or recognition of religious freedom.

Three things, unrelated to each other but each kind of sort of a product of the season have struck me so far this year.  And while focusing on them may seem odd to those of you who are reading this post they somehow connect the dots of Christmas time as an adult for me.  An art project, an opinion column in the University of Montana’s newspaper, and a conversation at the food bank each help explain my journey through the holiday.

The first issue I had with Christmas this year came as the response my sculpture class had to my most recent sculpture.  The assignment was to recreate 500 or more of the same (or similar enough to seem the same) object and then use them in an outside installation.  I decided to make gingerbread men out of white clay and snowmen out of red clay and then set them up as if they were having a mud/snowball fight.  I ended up with more snowmen than gingerbread men so I set the gingerbread men up around a stash of sprinkles and candy that might be used to adorn them if they really were cookies.  The snowmen were attacking and wanting to get the loot.  I thought I was making an anti-war statement: don’t we look silly when we fight and kill?  Aren’t the reasons we go to war ridiculous?  My class though I was humorously trying to say:  Christmas can be a brutal battle zone.  Even when it was pointed out that snowmen are usually white and gingerbread men are usually brown the class still rejected the idea that the installation might have a political nature and said it was about Christmas.

WOW!  Most of the people in my sculpture class are a whole lot closer to their childhoods than I am and they are already seeing the brutal elements of the holidays.

The second incident connected to the holidays actually felt like it accosted me.  I read an op-ed piece in the paper from a student who was angered by all the happy holiday greetings he was getting from store clerks and I assume his fellow students.  He continued his rant saying that they don’t even leave him alone when he tells them he’s Jewish and doesn’t celebrate Christmas but instead change their greeting to Happy Hanukkah which he informed his readers is not that big a deal for Jews.  The mom in me rose up and I wanted to both hug him and shake my finger in his face  for being such a humbug.

Yet, the more I have thought about that young man’s rant the more I wondered, would he still be as disgruntled if I simply wished him a good day?  How would he react if I invited him over for dinner and not just for Christmas cookies?  Is the season to be jolly just another stamp of approval to be fake?

Then I went to the food bank last Saturday.  Most of the time I work in the back filling boxes but this week I was at the front desk helping to check in the folks who were coming to get food.  I used to avoid the front desk but for the last couple of weeks it has felt like home.  We were actually a little slow last Saturday and while I was admiring the smile on a little guy’s face I got to hear a small piece of his story.  His mother had been raped and he was the result.  She smiled at her son as she spoke.  “Some day,” she said, “he may need to hear about his daddy but right now, he just needs love.”  Looking at that Madonna and child, manifest in front of me on a Saturday morning at the food bank of all places I understood what it meant to be redeemed.

As I contemplate the Advent season today I understand a little better why Jesus was born in a stable, why the rejects of society were the first to hear the news, why the gifts from the wisemen spoke not only about where the child came from but what he had come to do.  And I understand how greed and power and pain kill hope and joy in their attempts to stay in control.   But unto us was born…

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Advent blogs:

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Responses

  1. I really liked this. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. […] of epiphany.  But God showed up this week-end just as He had at the food bank when I wrote about Advent, so I thought I’d […]


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