I’ve always loved Christmas. The carols. The Christmas trees. The lights. The manger scenes. Christmas Eve services in a candle-lit church. The whole extended family gathering around a table groaning with turkey and all the fixins. Laughter and old stories. But this is the Covid-19 year and we’ve got social distancing and masks. No family hugs. No visits from our family in Mississauga. Certainly none from Atlanta. Sigh.
The isolation has given us all more time to think about what is important in our lives. Family is way up there. So are friends, which is one reason we always look forward to Christmas cards and greetings. It has also heightened the important of basic values; democratic values, moral values of integrity, compassion and, dare I say it, faith in Jesus, the Christmas One. He actually came to re-acquaint us with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
This Covid year has also seen the promotion of various causes. We’ve been reminded of the cruel details of slavery and residential schools. The media have made acts of injustice that represent failures of our vaunted liberal democracies hard to ignore. We must do all we can to ensure they are not repeated.
But here is a strange thing. We seem content to disguise the real cornerstones of western civilization beneath frivolous symbols.
Christmas is a case in point. Instead of heralding far and near the birth of the most astonishing person history has ever seen, we allow Santa Claus and his Elves to smother the celebration. The journey to Bethlehem is forgotten beneath the blaring of Ho, Ho, Ho’s, dreams of a white Christmas, and a whole rinky-dink plethora of substitutes. It’s Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, the Grinch and Frosty, the snowman. Christmas trees, yes; creches, no—too religious.
Christmas is not alone in this drive to hide religious symbols and secularize. There’s St. Patrick’s Day disguised beneath shamrocks and green beer instead of celebrating an amazing missionary figure who led to the transformation of Ireland.
Instead of Easter heralding the resurrection, we have Easter eggs and bunnies.
Reformation Sunday is completely ignored in spite of the fact that this revolution prepared most of the western world for democracy with its emphasis on the dignity and freedom of the individual. It was the reformation that lay the groundwork for abolishing the divine right of kings and establishing the sovereignty of the individual.
Sour grapes? I am not espousing a series of joyless celebrations. Kids deserve lots of fun, times to dress-up, eat candy and receive presents. But as Santayana has said, “He who fails to learn from history is doomed to repeat it.” Sadly, we can see the signs of this failure all around us. The more we disguise or ignore the real sources of our belief in the dignity, moral responsibility and freedom of the individual the more quickly will we see our civilization deteriorate.
Something else to ponder besides masks, hand-washing and social distancing.