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01. December 2016 · Comments Off on ‘TIS THE SEASON TO …. · Categories: General · Tags: ,

‘Tis  the Season To be Jolly, or so the popular Christmas song tells us.  Nobody really knows when this season begins. Is it on Black Friday, the day after the American Thanksgiving, which is often referred to as the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season?  It seems that this day has found its way into Canada as well, and has become something of a moveable feast.  Long before the actual day, we have been reading about Black Friday sales. Today, almost a week since Black Friday, I saw a television commercial about a Black Friday week sale, and another about Cyber Monday, which also is already a few days past.  Or is the First Sunday of Advent the official start of the season?  Nobody really knows except it starts sometime just before or after Halloween.

What I am about to write could make me look like a cynic, but trust me, I am no Scrooge when it comes to Christmas.  But from observation, this is the season to:

  1. holiday-music-playlistENJOY (0R ENDURE) CHRISTMAS MUSIC. We hear it almost everywhere we go: the mall, the grocery store, the elevator, the radio, oh yes even church. Some sources have played it like I said for over a month.  It used to be that out of respect for Remembrance Day, the music wouldn’t start until after November 11.  But this year I noticed it already right after Halloween.  It seems that the holiday season is determined not by the liturgical calendar but the agenda of retailers.

Now I need to emphasize that I love Christmas music.  I was fortunate to grow up in a German tradition, and therefore I have access to songs and carols that are unique to that culture, along with the carols like Silent Night, which is German in origin but shared with the rest of the world.  But when you hear the same songs for almost 2 months, one is exhausted come Dec 25.   To combat that, I have made it my practice to listen to special music that you don’t hear in these other sources, including the classics.  Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (preferably in the original German!) and many more.christmas-shopping-crowd-12678837

  1. SHOP TILL YOU DROP. Economists tell us that the Christmas season is essential to the retail industry. Without the sales that are made between now and Boxing Day, many retailers could not end the year in the black.  That is why they need you to buy, buy, and buy some more, and many shoppers will oblige them.  While I love giving gifts, I absolutely hate shopping.  I’m the kind of person who likes to know in advance what I’m going to buy, and then get in there and buy it and get out as fast as I can.  But not everybody is like that.  Some actually thrive on the experience of running from store to store, looking for bargains, fighting for a parking spot, and some people even get a buzz from doing this on Dec 23 or 24.  I did that once, and never again!
  1. unknownATTEND CHRISTMAS PAGEANTS. These come in two varieties: the ones at school and the ones at church, if you attend one. I remember when I was in elementary school and we gathered in the school auditorium and on stage the Christmas story would be presented in word, in song, and some attempt at drama. Those days are by and large gone, and if there is a program at all, it is likely to be a Winter Festival.  And if you expect this preacher to criticize that, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.  If you send your children to a public school that is funded by taxpayers’ money, why do you expect that the Christian version of Christmas to be presented in a place where students (and teachers) come from every imaginable religion?  If you want your religion to be shared there, then be prepared to have the others who wish to promote Hanukkah, or the Diwali festival of lights to have equal time. Some schools actually do that, but it doesn’t seem really satisfactory to anybody.
  1. ATTEND CHURCH CHRISTMAS PROGRAMS. Now these come in all shapes and sizes. Years ago the “Singing Christmas Tree” was the fad. Almost every town that had a mid to large size church had one.  You know, scaffolding reaching from the floor to ceiling, which choristers had to climb up into and then sing behind the evergreen branches and lights.  The church that I presently attend has done a Christmas Festival for 18 years. It is a quality musical production where the church choir is augmented by student choristers from a nearby college, professional orchestra musicians and soloists.  This year they are bringing Steve Green.  There are 4 performances on a weekend, and the church is usually packed out for each of them.unknown

But then there are the productions led by the children’s department of the church, in which the kids usually perform under duress, and I say that because I was terrified as a ten year old having to get up in front of the whole church to give my four memorized lines, or sing a song with my all-boys class.

As a pastor I have enjoyed and endured (more the latter) scores of these productions over the years.  Most were funny and cute. Which parent doesn’t like to see their offspring or grandchild at the front of the church in a bathrobe or a sheepskin?  I would always smile at how the parents would come early and stake out the best seats for their camera angle, or video equipment in later years.  But sadly, some of these programs were horrible. Either it was a canned production that some teacher had bought from a Christian publisher, and which was staged in an unimaginative way, or a program hastily thrown together featuring a grade 1 piano pupil plunking out Jingle Bells on the piano, or a class of teenagers barely moving their lips.

Why am I so critical?  Because I’m concerned about what kind of a message this sends to the kids.  By the time they are in school, most are exposed to all manner of technology. They know the difference between a good production and one that is either mediocre or Mickey Mouse. And when the latter is “good enough” for the greatest message ever sent to earth, that is a problem.

  1. ATTEND THE OFFICE PARTY. Depending on where you work, this event is obligatory in the season to be jolly. When I worked for a time in the sales office of a cemetery company, the annual Christmas party was a company-wide event held in a swank Toronto hotel. There was free food, and free liquid cheer. The latter got many employees into trouble. One colleague was proud to have vomited on the new suit that he had bought for the occasion. Another was summoned to Head Office the following week because he had made improper advances to a co-worker in his drunken stupor. I did not witness any of this, because I chose not to attend.  That brought me criticism from management.  If you are unfortunate enough to belong to a company that puts on an office Christmas party, then remember that although it is a party, you are still on the job if you go, and possibly out of a job if you consistently don’t go.  And we thought parties are supposed to be fun!
  1. SPEND TIME WITH THE FAMILY. For most of us, this will involve both our immediate family and our extended family, including the in-laws, the cousins, nieces and nephews etc. I grew up in a relatively small family. Neither my Mom or Dad had siblings or parents living in this country, so we only had each other.  Our Christmases were private and intimate, and between Christmas and New Years there would sometimes be socializing with friends. Our immigrant church had families such as ours, but also large families that had intermarried, and so there were huge family Christmases. From what friends tell me, these did not always go well.  For one thing, they would rotate the hosting amongst themselves, and whoever’s turn it was would be near a nervous breakdown by the time it was over.  And even though these families consisted mainly of Christians, there was the inevitable conflict, or the black sheep in the family who chose these occasions to behave badly.

tNow there are other things that I could have mentioned like writing Christmas cards, Christmas baking etc. but these things suffice to show us that this may not always be a season to be jolly.  There probably will be stress.  I know that when I was in ministry, by the time New Years was over, I was ready for a vacation (when you are a pastor there are many things that you simply have to attend, if not plan, organize and lead). And looking back on it all, few people recognized that pastors have families also, or that they might be far away from their families in order to serve you. But that’s for another time.  So be forewarned, and try to make your holidays as stress free as possible!

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