Apparently I am a Christmas nerd. I stopped for coffee at my favorite spot (Beans ‘n Cream in Sun Prairie) and some of the regulars were engaged in a spirited discussion about the Christmas holiday season. Eavesdropping without looking obvious, I found it fascinating that almost no one (there were eight people packed around a table for four) was saying anything positive. The essence of the conversation was stress: anxiety about family, travel, gift buying, gift giving, gift receiving, inconvenience, demands, expectations, and anticipated exhaustion. Beyond stress, the themes were annoyance, boredom, and contempt. Now, I know most of these people to be kind, sweet, nice church-going people. It was surprising to encounter such a negative vibe about Christmas.
Here is a near-verbatim paraphrase of part of the conversation:
“I don’t even watch TV in December. There is no way to escape all the movies and shows.”
“Oh, I know. I am so glad my kids are finally grown so I don’t have to watch those insipid kiddy shows like Rudolph and Charlie Brown!”
“I don’t go into stores if I don’t have to. We do gift cards we buy on-line. I hate the crowds, all the garish decorations — and the music. I will vomit if I hear Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole one more time.”
“There are radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving until Christmas. I’m surprised there’s not a 24/7/365 all-Christmas-music-all-the-time channel.”
“Travel is a nightmare. We get together the first week of December in my family and celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6. That way we can just do church at Christmas and ignore everything else.”
“It must be hell to be Muslim or Jewish in the United States in December.”
“December! I saw Christmas decorations up at Halloween!”
You get the drift. About thirty minutes of eight people making negative declarative statements about Christmas. So what does this have to do with me being a Christmas nerd? Basically, I love everything they hate (except travel — and I love having more space for church and faith observance on Christmas Day). Here’s the long short-list of what makes me a Christmas nerd:
- starting Thanksgiving Day until Boxing Day (December 26), I play nothing BUT Christmas music. It is all I listen to, and hearing Bing and Nat 150 times a season just makes me happy.
- during the same period, I only listen to favorite holiday audio books when in the car — Hogfather, A Christmas Carol, The Stupidest Angel, The Autobiography of Santa Claus, A Redbird Christmas all have become annual events for me. I have read, listened to Hogfather twenty times, A Christmas Carol well over fifty.
- I read Christmas themed books and stories through December. This year I am rereading all of Dickens Christmas stories (something I have done no less than twenty times) as well as The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries on my Kindle. 700 pages of Christmas who-dunnits.
- Christmas specials — particularly the clay/puppet/animated variety are watched every year, often multiple times. Rudolph is a good friend of mine — I saw him when he debuted in 1964, and every year since. This is our Golden Anniversary. Rankin-Bass spend Christmas at our house every year.
- As for movies, I am sure I have seen each of the following close to fifty times:
- White Christmas
- Holiday Inn
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- Miracle of 34th Street
- A Holiday Affair
- Christmas in Connecticut
- The Lemon Drop Kid
- The Bells of St. Mary’s
- and these at least 20 times:
- A Christmas Story
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
- A Christmas Memory
- The Homecoming
- Christmas Past (Kino’s collection of silent holiday classic short films — brilliant!)
- The Santa Clause 1, 2 & 3
- with even more “new” favorites:
- Arthur Christmas
- Four Christmases
- anything Muppet related (when, oh when, will John Denver and the Muppets come to Blu-Ray?)
You may be wondering why A Christmas Carol didn’t make the list? It gets a list of its own. Each and every year, my wife Barbara and I watch a dozen different versions and variations on the theme. Not one year goes by that we do not see Alistair Sim, Reginald Owen, Albert Finney, Patrick Stewart, George C. Scott, Frederick March, Vincent Price, Scrooge McDuck, Mister Magoo, Michael Caine, Henry Winkler, Cicely Tyson, Seymour Hicks, and Bill Murray play Scrooge or a reasonable facsimile.
We do Christmas jigsaw puzzles, I assemble Lego® Christmas villages, and I often put up a Dicken’s Christmas village. I am child-like and child-ish at Christmas.
This doesn’t even touch on the spiritual side. I love Advent worship — especially when it stays true to Advent. It just makes Christmas Eve/Christmas that much more special. I read and reread Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 1:5-2:40 in multiple translations, as well as in the Greek throughout December, and read a book called The Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas — a scholarly look at the source materials from which much of the Catholic veneration of Mary comes. Other favorite scholarly works that I return to during Advent: Stephen Binz’s, Advent of the Savior; Richard Horsley’s, The Liberation of Christmas; and, Jane Schaberg’s provocative and challenging, The Illegitimacy of Jesus. I wouldn’t say any of these books are “great,” but each provides a lens through which to examine and explore the old, old story in new and different ways.
So, yes, these are the ways in which I am a Christmas nerd, and proud of it. I, too, avoid stores. I, too, have copped out to gift cards and online shopping. I, too, get tired of the crass commercialism. I am fed up with any and all of the “war on Christmas” rhetoric. But, man oh man do I love the spirit and energy and joy and heart and hope of Christmas and most things Christmasy. I feel bad for those who experience so much stress, anxiety, exhaustion and weariness. My heart surely hurts for those for whom Christmas brings pain, sorrow, misery and despair. And I lament the ways we get so busy with Christmas that we have little time for Christ. I need the helpful reminder to nerd-out WITH Jesus, not just ABOUT Jesus (and all the other accoutrement we have dumped on the holiday).