I’m Dreaming of a Tight Christmas

by Jason Peters on December 22, 2010 · 15 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Region & Place

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Rock Island, IL

Why quarrel this time around? As the song says, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. We’ve decked the halls with boughs of holly for kids from one to ninety-two. The drummer boy and the night wind pursue their high callings. We’ve got snow and mistletoe and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Herbie wants to be a dentist, and Cindy Lou down in Whoville loves Christmas a lot. Whose heart hasn’t grown three sizes this very season? Perhaps the hopes and fears of all the years are met in one who shall speak peace unto the heathen. Peace would do for a change.

But as for me, I’m dreaming of a tight Christmas.

I don’t mean what our friends across the pond mean by “tight.” I’d just as soon not have to remove a C-clamp from my head the day after Christmas–or say, with Scrooge, that “the spirits have done it all in one night.” No doubt they can do it all in one night. No doubt they have on occasion done so. But let them leave us alone. Mayhap we’ve had enough of their vengeance to last a lifetime.

I’m dreaming of a tight—as in tight-fisted—Christmas. Think of the two Dutch Calvinists who, fighting over a penny, invented copper wire and you’ve got my meaning. I’m dreaming of disappointing the analysts and economists and politicians who are crossing their fingers in hopes that spending will be up. I would not have us die of consumption. I would have us live, each in his place, each knowing it well and loving it too.

Again, not to quarrel, but how about less shit? How about less fill for the land fill? How about less combustible material for the day of wrath? How about fewer goods and more goodness? How about no goods and all goodness?

Let the ads in the paper go unacknowledged, the “last-minute” hype go unheeded. Can anyone with access to these trifling sentences of mine want for anything a retailer has to offer? I can hardly believe it.

Oh, do let us feast, for there is propriety in that. Feasting is sometimes proper to us, and just now it befits the occasion. But rather than finding closets to fill, let us find bodies other than our own to adorn, hearts other than our own to cheer. Do you have two coats? Give one away. Obviate the need for locks and security systems and see if you haven’t been set free.

And however tight you may get, be tight toward yourself and toward all those who already have what they need. But be generous toward those who do not. The Incarnation was an ascetic, not an acquisitive, act. Let us likewise be ascetic. Let us dream of a tight Christmas and just see if it isn’t the merriest Christmas of all.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Mark Hoipkemier December 22, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Another home run, Sr. Peters! Indeed, we rich folk of Occident are, but bearing gifts need we not traverse at least to fill empty jar? We can neither stay home entirely nor be without whatever passes for frankincense and myrrh in the age of Old Spice. ‘Tight-fisted’ misses the mark, if the ascetic squeeze is to inflate a bubble of generosity, toothpaste-like.

Now bring us some figgy pudding, which they don’t sell at WalMart. If the thought counts, it stirs the brain pan very little to cut a swath of consumption through a big box, once the plastic is out of its scabbard. Why must the appropriate gift come in a polymer clam shell? Is the unbroken bar-code really the stamp of love? Why not give what we have already, cook what is in the pantry, carve the wood in the shop? Baby Jesus may not have time to wait while we hop in the car and patronize Eastern China. Who knows what innocents may be slaughtered in our absence?

Wall Street the king, in its raging, has slain all our crafts. There is weeping on the Porch, Joseph the Carpenter refusing to be consoled. But perhaps this Christmas we can be like his Son in all things but sin. We can give what we have, refashion the old into new, and give our money to others’ needs, not their profit margins.

There is no goal of such virtue, as is the rich simplicity that bore Jesu.

avatar John Médaille December 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Now you’ve done it. You simply don’t understand either the season or the economics. Without profligate spending, there can be no jobs. The most salient fact of modern economics is that economizing is uneconomic; the real measure of success is not the GDP but the trash heap. The gift is not the gift you give, but the money you spend on it. This gives the gift of jobs for another day. True, this gift will go to Shanghai, likely as not, but its the thought that counts. And the money.

avatar Anonymous December 22, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Jason,
I appreciate your articles, and I also get what you’re saying here. My pastor, one Toby Sumpter of Moscow, Idaho, had some things to say about Mammon and Christmas, but he’s drawn some different conclusions than you have. His post on the subject is here: http://havingtwolegs.blogspot.com/2010/12/defying-mammon.html; it links to another article of his that more fully describes what he’s getting at. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts…
-brendan

avatar Rob G December 23, 2010 at 2:26 am

“Austerity? We don’t need no steenkin’ austerity!”

avatar CMadden December 23, 2010 at 3:34 am

Within and throughout my xmas shopping experience; I found myself reflecting and appreciating the reason for the season. Few poets/artists/free-spirits had chosen to portray and convey such a vital setting to our experience of life, but I still believe meaningful things happen they’re. For example, when the cashier slid my Master’s-card [wink wink] through the narrow gate, the sound reminded me of Carol’s Bells. I listen to this song on my iPod while I skype with my family on my iPad, who(m) I normally only text because they are unbearable. But this time of year we put our differences aside and play bowling tournaments on my cousin’s Wii. Thinking about how many people from all times and from all places stop and pause to reflect during this important time truly inspires me to be just jolly!

avatar Jeff Taylor December 24, 2010 at 4:51 am

Thanks, Jason. Nice job.

avatar Russell Arben Fox December 24, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Well said, Jason. I assume you’ve seen this? If not, you need to. And merry Christmas!

avatar Calhoun December 24, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Maybe we could start by rewriting the Gospels so that the Wise Men aren’t bearing those unproductive, consumptive, excessive, gluttonous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but instead well-wishes? Less goods and more goodness.

avatar Bill December 25, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Providing for a poor family on the eve of their becoming refugees from a murderous king hardly seems “consumptive, excessive and gluttonous.” My guess is that those gifts were able to provide the money to sustain that family until it was safe to return.

The gifts of the Magi (and that story appears only in Matthew so removing it wouldn’t require “rewriting the Gospels”) seems a slim reed upon which to hang our very modern custom of consumer gluttony.

peace

avatar Bill December 25, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Me too Jason. If you haven’t seen it, check out http://www.adventconspiracy.org

avatar Calhoun December 25, 2010 at 11:54 pm

The Magi weren’t “providing for a poor family.” If they had been, they would have brought food, clothing, and other more useful goods. They were paying tribute. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were classic tribute goods in the ancient Near East. What that implies is that gift-giving is good and the more expensive the gift is for the giver -the more the giver is willing to sacrifice- the greater the value of the good. This doesn’t necessarily mean economically pricier goods are always better, because the nominal price of an item doesn’t always reflect its actual price to any particular individual.

Do I take it then that all stories that appear in only one gospel are suspect?

avatar Bill December 26, 2010 at 1:13 am

Not at all Mr. Calhoun. It’s just that your comment that removing the reference to the wise men required “rewriting the Gospels” suggested that you believed the story to be in all four, rather than just one.

The magi brought gifts fit for a king, because that’s what they expected to find. What they found instead was a poor family, soon to be refugees in a foreign land. It seems reasonable to assume that the family took the luxuries they were given, and exchanged them for “more useful goods” during their exile.

It seems to me that God used those gifts to provide the means for them to survive while they were in Egypt.

I certainly agree that tribute to the Lord is a good thing. But to whom are Americans paying tribute when we give gifts to each other at Christmas? Christ?

Whatever lessons we may draw from the story of the magi, I don’t think we can reasonably see it as an endorsement of the modern American gift giving custom.

peace

avatar Anonymous January 1, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Jospeh had a fairly solid career, so I would not characterize him and Mary as “poor”, relative to their times. They were not beggars living in the streets, which sort of pauper abounded in antiquity.
Of course, going into abrupt exile was not a happy financial move,so the family was going to be in a tight spot for a while. Still, I think we overdo this meme about how “poor” Jesus and his family were.

avatar Anonymous January 1, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Jospeh had a fairly solid career, so I would not characterize him and Mary as “poor”, relative to their times. They were not beggars living in the streets, which sort of pauper abounded in antiquity.
Of course, going into abrupt exile was not a happy financial move,so the family was going to be in a tight spot for a while. Still, I think we overdo this meme about how “poor” Jesus and his family were.

avatar Anonymous January 1, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Jospeh had a fairly solid career, so I would not characterize him and Mary as “poor”, relative to their times. They were not beggars living in the streets, which sort of pauper abounded in antiquity.
Of course, going into abrupt exile was not a happy financial move,so the family was going to be in a tight spot for a while. Still, I think we overdo this meme about how “poor” Jesus and his family were.

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