Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Family at Christmas

My family's all getting together for New Year's and Cousin Dave's wedding, so I got to have Christmas a little differently than I have ever had it on this side of the Pond before. I went to work.

I worked with two Starbucks partners from other stores, one of whom is apparently disaffected from all religions except maybe Buddhism (if you feel like calling that a religion). He spent the morning saying pointedly to people who wished him a merry Christmas, "Enjoy your holiday." (Last post notwithstanding, I do think such corrections are annoying and unnecessary.) I was actually interested in the number of people who said "Merry Christmas," sort of quietly taking a deep breath, bracing themselves, and uttering it with a strange sort of tentative defiance. If people actually said it, I made sure I confidently wished them a happy one back. The other "borrowed partner," as we call them, is a Jewish girl who wanted to wish people a merry Christmas simply because that is indeed the holiday that was being celebrated on this particular day. But every time she said it, they said, "Same to you!" and she said that wasn't quite right, either.

Most of the customers were in good moods, particularly because we were open and they wanted their coffee. The tips were, I think, well-nigh phenomenal. Lots of our favourite customers came in to wish us a happy . . . something, anyway. I kind of got a stomach ache, though, when one guy came in who was spending this holiday on his own yet again. He's divorced, and he has kids, but he's never had them on any holiday that I can remember. He was, as usual and understandably, glum. Maybe more than that. I has nothing to do with me, but I felt almost gut-wrenchingly sad about it.

I was finished with work by noon, at which point I headed off to some friends' from church. They are an unusually hospitable couple. The surface of the table was crammed with food and the perimeter was nearly as crammed with people, some of whom were also divorced without their children in attendance. Personal circumstances aside, everybody still seemed genuinely to be enjoying themselves. We laughed and talked and ate a lot. I thought about the customer and thought he needed something like this.

I'm not going to idealise the Church here, or say that this kind of warm happy-family-like community is a given among believers and doesn't happen anywhere else. But the contrast was stark enough to remind me of Jesus and the reconciliation and hope and community that He came to bring--first with God, and then with each other--whether we always actually get it or not. I still feel sorry for the lack of it. But I am also thankful for the warmth I experienced today. I'm thankful for this on-line community, too. It's a little weird. (I'm not saying you are. I'm saying it is.) But there's warmth here as well. Thank you. And merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Holidays

Having said that, here are some thoughts I've been thinking about the declawing of Christmas:

1. You didn't know it had claws, did you? Maybe it doesn't. (But it is the celebration of the human birth of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.) I'm pretty sure there was blood, at least. In spite of having some Roman Catholic sympathies, I'm not one, and I really think that Mary had a normal labour and there was blood. Although I have always enjoyed and probably always will enjoy Christmas trees and wreaths and pepparkakor, they don't particularly point to the reality of road-trips-via-donkey (or foot) and blood and dirt and naturally-scented animals. People get a little bent out of shape about the growing insipidity of Christmas, but it seems to me that, without the grit, it's always had the trappings to be insipid if we let it.

2. One day on one of my breaks I got in line to order and "mark out" a drink, and I asked for a "tall Christmas blend."

"A tall Xmas blend?" asked Kiran with a subtle tone of irony in his voice. (Yes, this is the same Kiran I drove home the other day. Please do not hold this against him. We actually had a chat in the car that day about whether I was "religious." It was interesting, but I don't feel I was particularly articulate.)

"No," I said. "Christmas blend."

I'm not really one to quibble about the whole "Xmas" thing. If people want to think they're neutralising the word, I can content myself with thinking about how "X" is the first Greek letter in "Christ." I don't feel like I need to argue about it, and frankly, if they're not celebrating Christ, why should they call it "Christmas"? However, I am celebrating Christ (or at least, I mean to--and I hope that's what I'm ultimately doing), and so I do not wish to be corrected for my use of the term--even when it's only in regard to coffee.

3. I also do not feel that I am selling out if I tell customers to "enjoy the holidays." Why would I wish someone a "Merry Christmas" if they don't celebrate it and/or celebrate something else? I do not suppose that by saying the words, "Merry Christmas" at someone I am magically converting them. And, as I have said before, if I wish to offend them, I'd rather do it in a context where we can discuss or argue about it almost immediately.

4. Christians in my neck of the woods seem to feel threatened by the fact that the big censorship trend now is to call Christmas trees "holiday trees." I join in the concern based on the fact that I do think it's censorship (I also think taking Oscar the Grouch off Sesame Street is censorship, though. Someone told me this was happening, although I have yet to find any documentation).

As I have said, I like Christmas trees. I have one, and I intend to keep having one. I also intend to keep calling it a Christmas tree. However, I would just like to throw this out there: it doesn't really have much to do with Christmas. And maybe, if we stop being allowed to slap the "Christ Mass" label on all the extraneous stuff that has come to be associated with the holiday, maybe we'll start to get the real holiday back. I'm not convinced that being able to keep calling public coniferous decorations "Christmas trees" is the way for Christians to keep their holiday.

Sometimes, for example, I wonder if calling the-obligatory-mass-purchasing-of-more-or-less-useful-material-possessions-for-other-people "Christmas shopping" is a little bit like taking the Lord's name in vain. I'm not saying it is. But I think it might be. If we separate things into "Christmas" versus "holiday" categories, we might just end up with unhelpful dichotomies, I suppose. We might compound our propensity to compartmentalise Jesus. On the other hand, if we actually started thinking about what we're calling stuff, we might start thinking about what we're doing. And then we might be able to be more intentional about how we celebrate Christmas--and really celebrate it.

In the meantime, I don't think people should call their winter holidays "Christmas" if they are in no other way acknowledging Christ. I wish everyone was celebrating that Jesus is God's Son, come to earth to set us free from ourselves. But if they're not yet, please, let's let them call their holiday something else. So that when they do meet the Incarnate God, they have a special name to call a special time of year that really has a lot more depth and meaning than tradition and nostalgia and presents and glitter and even family.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Take Back the Holiday

Denver Seminary Bookstore had this sale just before I quit my degree programme there. I bought a bunch of cheap books I had never heard of, realised some time later that I was probably never going to read them, and put them up for sale on half.com. Then someone actually bought one, and I thought, "Rats, I should've read it first!" So before shoving it in an envelope and a mailbox, I perused a quick chapter.

It was a book by Rodney Clapp and the thing I remember about this one chapter I read in it was his saying that Christians would never regain Christmas if they didn't regain Easter first.

I actually think this is true, although I can't remember how he unpacked his idea. I think Easter is our true holiday (although obviously if God hadn't become a real human being, it wouldn't be such a big deal). There's so much crammed into Easter: love and forgiveness and grace and hope and life and death--but not in the fluffy-chick-and-bunny sense of those words. (I'm not sure if there's a fluffy-chick-and-bunny sense of the word "death"--but I'm not sure there isn't, either, frankly.) The sort of bracing, scary, hard-to-come-by sense, instead, maybe.

I think if we had a better awareness of what we were celebrating at Easter and why it's so exciting and worth getting crazily celebratory about, we would probably have a little better handle on what we're celebrating at this time of year, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Winter Wonderland

The snow began softly falling on schedule today at 1 p.m. I say softly, but there was sure a lot of it softly falling at once. My shift ended right around then, and so did Kiran's; he didn't have his car, so I offered to give him a ride home.

Here's the thing. This part of the world gets snow. Sometimes a lot of it. We scoff at Southerners who shut down entire cities when one flake of the stuff falls from the sky. But if the truth were known, we don't really handle it too well either. Here we have been hearing warnings about this snowstorm (and the one coming up later this weekend) for the last two or three days. So you would think that all these seasoned snow warriors would just hunker down wherever they were for a couple of hours and wait until a few plows had been through, and then head home after that. Leaving the roads clear so those of us who had already worked a full eight hours and had stuff to do in the afternoon could head home among the first couple of flakes. Er, snowdrifts.

But no. Instead, everyone completely freaked out (or took advantage of the situation) and left work/school/the gym early, so that probably the entire county (minus the four people who were still working at Starbucks) decided to converge on Park Ave and Main Street all at the same time.

It was nice having someone to talk to in the car for the first two hours. Unfortunately, I was on my own for the last three. I'm not going to go into the part about how when I finally got home, I had no place to park and got stuck in a drift twice and had to dig myself out both times--and then dig myself in, as it were. And how that was kind of upsetting. (Or at least, I was kind of upset.)

But I do have a theory about why "my people" up here are so silly about snow. This batch of snow really is quite beautiful. It's soft. It actually shovels pretty well, yet it's also not too bad for making snowballs. (The best part of the commute today was when a car-full of college students scraped some snow off their own car and pelted it at mine.) But here we all are--poor us--having spent our childhoods making snowmen and going sledding and having snowball fights in our ill-fitting snowpants. And then we grow up and suddenly all we have time for is shoveling and trying not to skid into somebody else's car on the way to work. It's a let-down. Snow wasn't meant to be so mundane, I don't think. It certainly wasn't meant to take five hours to go ten miles in it. I think we were all just supposed to stay home and enjoy it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


There's too much going on around here these days for me to have much time to post, and, in spite of that, not much to talk about. If you're dying for intelligent discourse . . . I don't know why you're here, but . . . here's a link to an interview with Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass. Thanks to Chris for the inadvertent (or at most semi-advertent) heads-up.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


On Friday I made ghormeh sabzi for the first time. This is a Persian dish I have not had since I lived in London, mainly as all of my Persian friends still live in London. On Friday I decided that if I couldn't mooch any off anybody else, I could at the very least make it myself.

My mother quipped, "That's not very patriotic." I don't suppose I could really be considered overly patriotic, I'm afraid, although I certainly wasn't trying to make a political religious statement. So I continued chopping parsley.

I had pulled some meat out of the freezer the night before, and I cut that up and put it in the pot, only then realising that what I had thought it was beef was really pork. I don't think I know any Iranians--not even non-Muslim ones--who would put pork in ghormeh sabzi. I feel that I have now sufficiently flaunted the culture and nationality of two opposing countries, in which case, there shouldn't be a problem.

It tasted good anyway, by the way.