Christmas week… in the bitter cold of an Illinois winter, 6 of us piled onto our family toboggan. My 7-year-old legs were wrapped forward around my brother and my frozen hands wrapped around the ropes that ran along the sled seats on either side. Dad took his position at the back. The chute was released and we screamed our way down 100s of feet of icy slide and out onto the frozen lake. Snow flew up and around us as we flew out of the chute. We would eventually careen sideways and roll into a bank of it. No matter how much we were bundled in coats, scarves, gloves, and buckled boots, snow worked its way up our backs, into our boots and down our necks. But we were undeterred. We would dust it off and climb the hill to do it again. It was all part of Christmas week.
Things change. The Deer Grove Toboggan Slides, which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, were closed in 2005. All of the Cook County slides were closed. Neglect, budgets and liability put an end to a tradition that spanned about 70 years. Christmas week changed, too.
When Mom was growing up, the Christmas tree was purchased on Christmas Eve. Her family would go to midnight mass and return to find that the tree had been decorated while they were gone. And so the week began. Mom made adjustments in celebrating Christmas with us. The tree was purchased a bit earlier and we shared in the decorating. What remained the same was that Christmas was all about the week that followed the celebration of the birth of Jesus. School was out. Dads took the week off. From Christmas to New Year’s Day we celebrated the Christmas season. Caroling and Christmas parties happened during that week more than prior. For one week we would interrupt the routines of life with unscheduled time for family, friends and fun.
Madison Avenue has forever changed our American Christmas experience. Our addiction to media has made us vulnerable to their priorities. Advertisers have honed their expectations and act as carnival barkers calling all of us in to see the wondrous things we can buy. Christmas season, also now known as “the shopping season,” kicks off with something called Black Friday. Then the floodgates open for advertisers to convince us to buy yet another gift. Mass media serves up a Christmas that seems further and further removed from the origins of the day we are celebrating; that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The frenzy continues until the actual day approaches. There are a few last minute shoppers to attract, but eventually the law of diminishing returns dictates an end; there is no reward for continuing to play to the season, which for all intents and purposes is over. Attention must be turned towards the next best prospects for sales (which is abruptly apparent by simply watching how the ads change). For many people, Christmas climaxes with gifts under the tree and the gift of eternal life, neglected or unknown, is lost in the wrapping. The season ends before Christmas day is done.
So I protest. I will keep Christmas in a nostalgic and old fashioned way. I will take a week off and center that week on copious unplanned time for family, friends and fun; for games, a fireplace, even a day of tubing on Mount Hood. And I will spend lingering times in prayer, devotion and worship. Jesus conspired to change the world by His presence among us. And I conspire to change a little bit of the world around me.