“Christmas is too commercialized.”
A clerk in a hospital gift store told me that just the other day. It was her response to my well wishes of, “Merry Christmas! It’s the best day of the year.”
I wonder if my sweet gift store clerk would have felt the same about a Victorian Christmas. Charles Dickens’ book, “A Christmas Carol” depicts scenes of carolers, family gatherings, games, and big feasts complete with the Christmas goose and plum pudding. Going to church Christmas morning was one more item on the list of activities. Too much, too much? Scrooge thought so.
Would you rather see the movie? My favorite version of “A Christmas Carol” is the one with Patrick Stewart: http://amzn.to/2Bn2ct2
My Victorian Christmas Experience
I got a chance to enter the world of a Victorian Christmas some years back. As an outreach and involvement tactic, our little church sponsored an event a month for an entire year. One lady was particularly creative and we had such wonderful events as a Christian motorcycle gang leading worship, a group wedding ceremony where couples could repeat their wedding vows, and a traditional, Pilgrim-style Thanksgiving. For Christmas, we celebrated Victorian England style.
Ladies spent an entire Women’s Fellowship meeting poking cloves into oranges. With a bit of grumbling, I offered to prepare the goose. One taste told me why I grumbled – for all that grease, it sure was tough! The planning committee even rented costumes so several of us could dress up as street singers. Our enthusiastic chairperson persuaded one talented twenty-something who didn’t belong to our congregation to be a soloist and she twisted the arms of a young couple to reenact the scene at the crèche.
The program was simple. We’d read several era-appropriate poems, the street singers would perform several songs, our soloist would sing What Child Is This? and then we would proceed to the feast. But, as often happens in program planning, the best laid plans can quickly go a-foul. Or, like my disappointing goose, a-fowl. Our soloist came down sick. As the ever faithful minister’s wife, I had a reputation for being a reliable fill-in. Would I sing the solo instead?
So there I was in my supposed one-size-fits-all pin-striped shirtwaist, and black skirt cinched in with multiple safety pins, clutching a microphone and singing What Child is This?
You can enjoy a wonderful rendition of What Child Is This? here.
Performance rules say you must always face your audience and so I did. At one dramatic moment though, I turned and gestured dramatically toward the young couple and their baby. Then it hit me. I was facing the wrong direction.
I was singing to the wrong audience.
What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthem sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
My focus now totally on that baby, I mounted the stage steps.
“This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing”
In that moment, all the trappings, all the props, and all the reenactment fell away. To my awe-struck soul, Jennifer and Clark’s baby became the Lord Jesus. The baby wasn’t just another baby. He was the King of Kings who came to save his people.
Oblivious to my billowing skirts, I impulsively knelt before the crèche.
“Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the Son of Mary.”
My knees melded to the carpet as I sang the final verse, my voice taking on notes of passion and pleading.
“The King of Kings salvation brings
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.”
Christmas has not changed.
As my voice fell silent, I was moved in that deep inner part that knows no words. Then I realized where I was and what I was doing. Embarrassed, I rose and moved back among the rank of street singers, hoping my unscripted action of kneeling before the crèche’ had not appeared unseemly or over-dramatic. It didn’t matter. I had realized and experienced the most important part of Christmas – the celebration of the One who humbled Himself to take on the form of a baby so He could bring salvation to all.
I didn’t know until later that my action of kneeling had the same impact on everyone else. For months, people talked about the Victorian Christmas program. They didn’t talk about the costumes, the meal, or the clove-studded oranges. They talked about the moment the preacher’s wife knelt before the manger, transporting everyone to the real meaning of Christmas. It was a pinnacle of worship our little congregation did not soon forget.
Yes, Hospital Gift Store Clerk, society has been guilty of wrapping too many layers of commercialism around Christmas. That doesn’t have to stop any of us from celebrating. It’s our choice to remove the wrappings and trappings and step toward the crèche so we can reveal to ourselves and others the real Gift of Christmas – Jesus Christ. No matter how others might choose to denigrate the day, it is still the best day of the year.