Black Friday started during Thanksgiving Day this year, a notion that I find personally atrocious. Every time I see a commercial advertising blowout sales being pushed back even further I can’t help but marvel at the detriment for humanity. Pretty soon our beloved Halloween will be invaded with consumerism and then, seriously, what hope will there be for us?
Instead of something as heinous as bargain shopping on Black Friday, my family has the pious tradition of purchasing our Christmas tree. If our routine wasn’t the definition of liturgy, I don’t know could be. Despite the fact that we went to the exact same Christmas tree farm every year, Dad had a different “shortcut” to try each time, a route which inevitably lead us somewhere in the neighborhood of Marry-Your-Cousin, Ohio all while Mom blared Amy Grant’s Tennessee Christmas (on repeat, ten billion times) from the tape deck. It was marvelous.
When we finally arrived at the tree farm, the true festivities began. There are only three things in the world that can come between families: romance, money and Christmas trees. Every year, my family fell victim to the third. Our identities became encapsulated in the perfect Christmas tree we had selected, to the extent that when challenged blows were exchanged. The same shots came out year after year; example: Bryn has a girl’s name and therefore he has no authority when it comes to selecting a tree. Everyone guffawed and we were that much further away from picking out an emblem of the Christmas spirit that (supposedly) bonded us all together. Once we finally did cut down the tree, argue about who had to haul it back and argue again about whether or not it was the right one, we still had to bring the thing home, another heart-warming endeavor. To this day my mother seems convinced that there are few greater horrors in life than the prospect of watching our Christmas cheer catapult off of our roof and into the rear window of an unsuspecting Honda; a prospect she figured inevitable were Dad to drive over thirty miles per hour. And don’t forget Dad’s affinity for shortcuts. Sometimes we’d be halfway to Kansas before he’d finally concede it was a bad idea, turn around and resume the journey home somewhere near the pace of a wagon train.
When the van pulled into the driveway somewhere close to midnight we’d be ten times grumpier and still faced with the task of deciding where to place our Yuletide Woe. More arguments followed and continued while there was always the one family member that would reduce themselves to sitting on the couch and religiously crooning, “If only you had listened to me and gotten my tree we wouldn’t be having this problem. It would have fit perfectly in that corner.”
All this goes to say that this year my family deterred from tradition. My brother and his wife joined us at my parent’s new house in a Boston suburb. The day after Thanksgiving was relaxed and amicable. We ran a local 5k race for charity. Afterwards we sipped on soup, I read some Steinbeck and later in the afternoon we piled into the car to go select a pre-cut tree from a stand. I thought about punching my brother on the cheery basis of nostalgia but my fiancé told me to grow up or I wouldn’t get any hot cocoa. On the way home, Dad still took a short cut but all things considered it went well; we were home before midnight and Mom didn’t even play Amy Grant. Not once.
I’ve avoided the Internet these past few days, mostly because I don’t want to read stories of people running over each other in Wal-Mart parking lots or stabbing each other over a Barbie. But I look around me, at a dying pine tree standing precariously in the window, decorated with lights and bits of plastic and at a family that loves and annoys each other all at the same time and I break a smile at the ridiculous nature of this world. Baby Jesus must’ve been the first one to emerge from the womb laughing, laughing at our lights, our tinsel, our family feuds, commercials and Black Friday sales: laughing so he wouldn’t cry. For the time being, that’s all he really could do.
So I guess the sanctification of Christmas, like everything else, is a process and we’re still just working through it. If there’s any hope for us it’s not putting Christ in Christmas but finding him there already, laughing at the joke we tend to be. Dying for your sins will come later. For now, Baby Jesus says, let’s have a laugh. C’mon. It’s all so beautifully ridiculous.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s still enough time in the day to punch my brother. For ol’ time’s sake, you see.