Today is Christmas Eve, the most magical day of the year when I was a child. Very little of my German ancestry's culture survived down to my parents' generation, but we did keep to the German tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve night. My family also went to mass on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas morning. When I was an undeniably doubtless true believer, the midnight mass on Christmas Eve swelled my soul like little else. It was not just the music and the incense and the weirdness of being at church on a pitch black night, but also the promise that the world, so broken and sinful, was in fact redeemed by the Son of God.
Last year when I went to Christmas Eve mass with my parents I got much of the same feeling, even if I am a lapsed Catholic agnostic who attends Episcopal services. I have been thinking about that experience for a year now, and have come to realize that there are completely secular reasons to "Keep Christ In Christmas," as the bumper stickers say.
What I mean here is the idea of Christ and what he represents. Those who are not believers could still take heart in the idea of redemption offered by Christmas. It is a chance to look out at our broken world and all of its problems and to think about redeeming it. Instead of looking to divine favor, Christmas could be a time to think about how we, in the here and now, can bring about that redemption.
That thought would also be necessary antidote to most of what Christmas has become in America. Its ridiculous, vulgar consumerism is the opposite of redemption. The idiotic culture wars over saying "Merry Christmas" are divisive and chauvinistic during a season that should be about acknowledging our common humanity. This is perhaps why I love the Charlie Brown Christmas special so much. The consumerism of his sister, dog, and friends has left Charlie Brown exasperated, and when he asks if someone can tell him the true meaning of Christmas, Linus quotes from the relevant passages of the Gospels.
I watch it nowadays with my children and see it less as an expression of Christianity and more as a plea to treat Christmas as something more meaningful than an orgy of materialism. This Christmas, as the Scrooges in Congress have voted to shovel more money into the bloody maw of the Moloch that is this nation's plutocratic class, it's more relevant than ever. Let's use Christmas to think about what kind of world we want to live in, and how we will bring that about.