This is a time full of feasting. Everywhere you go it seems you’re offered a plate of mince pies or piece of stollen, perhaps with a glass of mulled wine. You can’t escape it—biscuits and coffee at church become wine and cake week after week.
Or at least that’s normal in the UK, I’m told this is less normal in North America and can only conclude it’s because you hate Christmas, what else could it be? It is fascinating how regional our Christmas customs are, and if you’re one of my readers from elsewhere in the world much of what I write about in this post may make little sense, but I trust that the principles will still apply where you are.
If you’re engaging in Advent then hopefully you’re pushing back against the feasting a little, even if it’s silently in your heart while you stuff your face with another chocolate reindeer. All in the name of preparing your stomach for the big day, of course.
A countercultural suggestion
For all feasting is everywhere, and invitations to pop over for a glass of mulled wine abound to the point you’re a little sick of it, Christmas itself is a family affair. You will if you’re able gather with a section of your relatives for the grand meal. The Turkey is roasting, the pigs-in-blankets (the best bit in my opinion) are cooking while the cat salivates, the vegetables are being carefully prepared in a ridiculous number of different ways that you would never contemplate another day of the year. Potatoes are rolled in goose fat, parsnips slathered in parmesan, carrots covered in butter.
You’ve stocked up the alcohol, more wine than you could possibly drink—it isn’t a challenge I promise—a wide number of spirits you wouldn’t normally partake of, port, dessert wine, the whole nine yards. Maybe if you’re lucky someone’s got in some Christmas Ale, and as Christmas Day is one of the three days a year I think it’s socially acceptable to drink before lunch, you get offered Prosecco for breakfast.
It all sounds amazing, and a recipe for being as wide as you are tall. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that in and of itself—though we should be as wary of gluttony and drunkenness at this time of year as at any other. Everything in moderation is still a good idea, though indulge enough to consider it a feast.
We might be concerned that we think little of Christ, or that the highest day of the year in our culture enshrines our idols: our god is our bellies. These are valid concerns worthy of consideration. We should enjoy all the good things God has made by enjoying them, and yet worship God alone.
My concern is different though: the church gets crowded out. Churches like mine that rent space can’t meet over Christmas anyway, we can’t rent any of our usual venues for obvious reasons. Nowhere is open on Christmas day. Nor should they be.
As I’ve argued before, this along with Easter is one of the real tests of whether we believe that the church is a family. We’re in the UK’s second largest city, our church is correspondingly young, a high percentage of our people clear out for Christmas to their families all around the country. It’s difficult to arrange to have both family and Family—both blood and water relations—at our Christmas table. But if we can, we should.
Who is being forgotten? Which older people have nowhere to go? Which families from outside the UK would love to be around your table and share some of their Christmas traditions with you? Which single or childless people find Christmas deeply wearing and need your compassion?
It’s difficult though. I’m writing this before we’ve nailed down our Christmas plans, but I suspect we will be away from home for Christmas day. Our immediate families live a fair distance away from us, we will most likely be with one or the other of them. And it would be difficult to argue that that’s wrong. If you are staying where you are and having others come to you, who else can you include?
Here’s my countercultural suggestion: start to think of Christmas as twelve days long. We sing the song, but few of us want to think of the 5th of January as still Christmas. However at least here in the UK many workplaces will be closed for a week or so following Christmas Day. Here’s my suggestion: travel back before the end of the twelve day feast. Do something with family from your church. Invite your friends and invite those you find more difficult. Invite those who will have had a wonderful Christmas Day and those who you fear may have hated it.
Cook something faintly Christmas-themed, even if its not the whole traditional dinner. Get around the table. Toast the season. Worship the Lord.
If you’re invited to a Christmas thing and it’s nearly the New Year, or even after it, don’t scoff. Even if it feels like an imposition. Go to be with your family. Take some food with you and share it together. Enjoy each other’s company. Taste a little taste of the resurrection—of that time we’ve been dreaming of in Advent—in the rest you experience in family around the table.
Make our claims true with your actions. We teach that water is thicker than blood—that the bonds of baptism are stronger than those of birth. Prove it this Christmas.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
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