Time was, Christmas was about “miracles:” totally unexpected and improbable events which brought meaning and joy into otherwise routine lives. The remembering of the themes and memes of the season asks us to acknowledge the intervention of the unexpected benevolent omniscience of the universe in daily life.
We remember the miracle of the virgin birth, and the miracle of a special star which led a group of astronomers to find the hidden birthplace of a king. We remember the miracle of angels appearing out of the night sky to serenade the new family.
More recently, we recall the miracle of flying reindeer, and of a timeless man who brings special gifts to all of the children of the world in a single night.
Some might even celebrate the “miracle” of getting a specifically coveted gift, the “miracle” of a family re-united, or the “miracle” of mended relationships.
Even the popular Christmas movies of the last few decades tell stories of people who create positive change in their little corner of the world when their hearts are warmed by Christmas magic.
And yet, those of us who watch TV, listen to radio, spend time online, or venture away from home to shop have been constantly bombarded for the last six weeks to prepare for Christmas by buying. I can’t quite get my brain around the transition from the miraculous to the retail.
Coca Cola learned in the 1920’s that Santa sells. Some of our most iconic Santa Claus art was created by Haddon Sundblom for the Coca Cola Company over his 33 year career. That is when Santa Claus and Christmas moved out of homes and churches and into the stores.
Of course Woolworths, Sears, and other retailers had started selling Christmas ornaments, electric lights, and artificial trees decades earlier. But somehow the idea of “Christmas Shopping” came into the public consciousness, at least here in the United States, with the advent of department store Santas, specially decorated holiday windows and Christmas parades. New York and Detroit hosted the first Christmas parades, to bring Santa to the department stores, in the early 1920’s.
Montgomery Ward created a story about “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” in 1939, to give away to the children of Christmas shoppers as a promotion. The song followed 10 years later. The big department stores led the way, and we’ve all happily followed along.
When I was a child, we made an annual pilgrimage to the Miller and Rhodes store in downtown Richmond to have our portraits made with Santa and give him our Christmas lists. We made a day of it, no matter where we were living at the time, and enjoyed lunch or dinner in the tea room with Santa and the Snow Queen as part of the experience. We always did a portion of our shopping at Miller and Rhodes, and across the street at Thalhimers. It was our tradition, along with slowly studying all of the animated windows, visiting the toy departments, and buying sugary treats in the “fine foods” department at Thalhimers.
I think our focus has shifted way away from where it was, even a century ago, when it comes to Christmas.
Lately every time I turn on the TV, there is this popular singer, at his white piano, crooning holiday songs about buying new cars for Christmas. Really? Christmas is about getting new cars, I phones, big TVs, and other “techno junk” these days?
When did that happen? At least in the 60’s we were preoccupied with children’s toys. The adults were happy with their new socks and ties, lipstick or scarf, and the occasional suit coat or new sweater. Although Santa sometimes brought big family gifts, I don’t recall expensive Christmas gifts for adults as the norm until recent years.
My email inbox is full, at the moment, with urgent greetings from retailers encouraging me to take advantage of 30%-40% off and free shipping if I’ll just order that one more gift by Christmas Eve. Our modern miracle is the fantastic retail savings online, and Amazon’s wonderful delivery options.
It feels to me like there has been a seismic shift in our response to the “Christmas holiday” in America. Of course, there has been a seismic shift in nearly every part of our culture, so there should be no surprise.
If you were to ask me right now for my “Christmas List,” it would be very short and to the point. First, I’d ask for a full recovery for my ailing father who just got home from hospital yesterday. His getting home was my first Christmas miracle of the year, for which I am deeply grateful. We hope he will be strong enough and recovered enough to take joy in Christmas Day and enjoy the family who gathers.
Secondly, I wish for a safe and easy delivery for my daughter, whose first child will arrive some time in the next week or so. I hope for a healthy first grandchild and good fortune for her parents, who are so very excited to now have a daughter of their own.
Beyond that, my wants are insignificant, as I am already blessed with such abundance. Nothing from a store could compare with the well being of my family during this time of transition.
And yet, I was blessed this evening with a beautiful, joyful, totally unexpected, tiny miracle. I had made up my mind that outdoor Christmas lights weren’t going to happy here this year. I’ve been so busy with other pressing things, and with extra travel to help out with my father’s hospitalization, that I had pushed the thought of outdoor lights aside.
And yet, as I pulled into the drive at dusk tonight, home from another day of helping my folks, I was greeted with beautiful twinkly Christmas lights all along the front of the house. What an amazing and beautiful sight. While I was away, my partner had found them all and created a beautiful wonderland of light to greet my return.
To me, this night, that was a beautiful Christmas miracle.
The love that prompted such a generous gesture is what we long for and celebrate each year.
Such love is the light that warms our hearts and keeps us all children at heart, year upon year upon year.
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013