Yesterday on the half day before the winter break, I taught a lesson on holidays. We try to summarize what all holidays have in common. Celebrating holidays seems to be something that is intertwined into the fabric of every culture. They serve a special purpose, to help us remember an important event or information of our culture and/or just an excuse to bring us together to have fun; to unify us. Sometimes that unity can be found in such silly things as just playing pranks on someone on April Fools Day.
There are four types of holidays are religious (Easter, Passover), patriotic/nationalistic (4th of July, St. Patricks' Day), secular (Earth Day, Arbor Day), and fun (Halloween, Hoodie-Hoo Day). And all holidays seem to have practices and traditions. The fun of the holiday lesson is when we then watch clips on Youtube that combine all the Festivus sections of the Seinfeld episode, The Strike. For the month before Christmas, I have a foot long dowel wrapped in tinfoil on display in my classroom. Most wonder what its purpose is. After watching Seinfeld, they receive their answer. The students have to identify all the aspects of a holiday that can be discovered about Festivus thorough out the episode. (The sad thing is when I ask the question, "What did Jerry Seinfeld say was the purpose of Festivus?" and students say, "Who's Jerry Seinfeld?").
I'm hoping my friend Jeff will video tape his family's Festivus celebrations and post it to Youtube so I can show my class a typical Festivus celebration.
Outside of the classroom, I have time to reflect on the importance of holidays more deeply. In this dark, winter season, it seems like we do need a reminder that there is light that shines. Christians have their Christmas with the lights on the tree and the Jewish faith Hanukkah, the festival of lights. The Hindus have Diwali that takes place in the fall, as the days get shorter. Its not just physical darkness, but the darkness found in evil. Humans desire that the light of goodness will outshine the darkness. We see it in our religions, the epic tales we tell, and the hope we clutch on to in the worst tragedies.
Holidays not only serve to remind us, but also a reason to come together and celebrate. A time to cherish each other and the relationships we have. A time to let loose, have fun and enjoy life. Holidays always seem to pull us together. Even if our families are dysfunctional, at least they are our dysfunctions and add spice to the occasion.
As a person that practices the Christian faith, I love Christmas. Not just for the presents (both giving and receiving) but the spectacle. The music, the tree, the lights, even Santa, it all draws me into the reason for the season; when God came to earth to bring light to the darkness in the person of Jesus. As Linus Van Pelt responded to Charlie Brown's question, "Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?"
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
Several friends and I lament every year how the evangelical Christian churches we find ourselves in only do token "Christmassy" things in the month leading up to the day. Maybe one carol when the congregation sings a week, rarely a sermon on Advent or Christmas on any day other than Christmas Eve. One of my friends seriously thought about attending Catholic services for the month just before Christmas just to be reminded what season it was.
I have heard, "we don't want to practice the tradition of men", and then the very people who say that are blinded that they are establishing their own "traditions of men". Holidays serve a purpose, they remind us of something important and unite us. Can the importance of the traditions supersede the importance of what is being remembered in the hearts of some people? Absolutely. So can the importance of a great speaker system and audio/visual display in your church. Or that every bit of a service has to be perfectly orchestrated because for some reason the group of people who are heard quoted to say, "Im not perfect, just forgiven" believe we should be impervious to mistakes in a church service.
I think people need to hear stories over and over. We so easily forget things and reminders are so important and add depth to what we believe.
I miss watching kids act out the Christmas story.
Christians complain that we don't like having to say or hear "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" while some Christian church circles shut the door on the Christmas season in their own buildings.
Lighting Advent candles at church is a good thing. Singing traditional Christmas carols is a good thing. Filling your church with poinsettias, wreaths, and a Christmas tree is a good thing. It connects us to people who believe like us, on the other side of the world or from the ancient past. It draws us to remember very important theological points of our faith, that God came to earth to live and rescue people who rebel and forget about Him. It also serves to unite us together in this dark time and hopefully encourages us to help those who are less fortunate as God helped us.
And that's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.