A Festivus for the Rest of Us

By now, most of us in the West are up to our necks in holiday commercialization. Far too many of us feel like we’re once again stumbling toward Christmas, exhausted and depleted by the most consumeristic season in history’s most consumeristic civilization.

When inundated with the pressures and relentless commercializing of the Christmas season, one memorable personality on the sitcom Seinfeld abandoned Christmas altogether and up and created his own holiday, or anti-holiday. As some of us will recall, it was the father of Jerry Seinfeld’s good friend George — his name, Frank Costanza — who created the December 23 observance called “Festivus” in the 1997 episode called “The Strike.”

Today’s the day. Happy Festivus!

Maybe Frank’s exasperation over the holiday season resonates with you, not because you’re a curmudgeon like he, but because you’re an earnest Christian who would rather celebrate the unparalleled significance of Jesus’s incarnation — God becoming man — without all the frills of endless sales and endless Santa.

So what’s a Christian to do in this seasonal malaise?

That Curious Christmas Amalgam

Scottish theologian Donald Macleod has shared Frank’s frustrations, but they’re the product of a vastly different worldview. Macleod’s angst over what Christmas has become is less convenience and more Christian.

Every year the world — and the church — experiences Christmas, that curious amalgam of paganism, commercialism, and Christianity which Western civilization has invented to tide it over the darkest days of the winter. Christmas is a lost opportunity, a time when the world invites the Church to speak and she blushes, smiles, and mutters a few banalities with which the world is already perfectly familiar from its own stock of clichés and nursery rhymes. (From Glory to Golgotha, page 9)

While we Christians may sympathize with Frank’s disillusionment, our response will be much more like Macleod’s, though possibility with a touch less edge.

Let’s Make Jesus Explicit

It’s doubtful that the best way forward for the Christian is to abandon Christmas and make up some new holiday that gets it right. Macleod’s solution has a better chance. When the world makes so much of a holiday originally Christian, and thus tacitly invites Jesus’s followers to speak, let’s not blush, smile, and mutter a few banalities. By all means, let’s speak with clarity and conviction.

Let’s talk in concrete terms about why we celebrate, and whom, about the day when God became man, without ceasing to be God, that he might live among us as fully human and die the death we deserved for our collective and individual rebellions against him.

Let’s make it plain in our homes, and among our extended families, and for our friends, that Christmas is not a birthday party for a tribal deity, but as Macleod says, “the perforation of history by One from eternity . . . the intrusion and eruption of the Eternal into the existence of man.” Christmas has a spectacular Light that the seasonal glitz and glamor incessantly threatens to obscure, but is much too precious to let be dimmed.

The Real Festivus Miracle

We don’t need to abandon wholesale the tinsel and bells and mistletoe like Frank, but we do need to be particularly vigilant to keep ourselves, and those we love, from being occupied with everything that has become Christmas, save Jesus.

For the Christian, the best answer to the Christmas mess isn’t Festivus — entertaining as the idea of “playful consumer resistance” made for a beloved sitcom. Our best response is clarity and explicitness about the true miracle of Christmas, that God himself, in the person of Jesus, took a true human body and a reasonable human soul (as the ancient creed puts it) that, fully God and fully man, he might bring us humans from our mess to himself.

In the midst of layer after layer of holiday common graces that quickly become distraction after distraction of the celebration’s true essence, it is a beautiful thing, when for a memorable, unhurried moment, everything stops and Linus reads from chapter two of the Gospel of Luke.

And so maybe the real Festivus miracle would be that a fictional December 23 anti-holiday would remind us to make central the true miracle of the God-man in our December 24 and 25 celebrations.