Sarah Merry Christmas


I used to be against the Christmas season hooha. I was for Christmas. That was settled. The birth of Christ, the nativity, the star and the angels and the promises of God. I like that Christmas is a yearly moment we take to think about the end from the beginning. Christ was a baby! We say. Isn’t that awesome?

But the other stuff—the non-Christ story stuff, the seasonal merriment stuff—that’s the hooha. We fill December with hooha, with all kinds of good things, the way I pour milk on my ice cream to make the taste go further, because one can only read Luke 2 so many times in a month. And we want—we want something from the season. Something meaningful, something transcendent, something to tide us over until January, until June, until next year. And Luke 2 is only 52 verses.

So we fill up December with hooha, but then December goes fast, and it ends up moving like overexcited angels, who shout unintelligibly as they crash cymbals and fly by. And there’s Christmas choir concert #1, wham bang, Christmas band concert #2, ho ho ho, ward Christmas party, work Christmas party, school Christmas party, the mall, and then It’s Christmas Eve, everyone! with nuts, cheese balls, piano playing, and a nativity, then Wake up!, It’s tooooo early, It’s Christmas! with roller blades, movie watching, leftovers, and forgotten clementine peels.

Then it’s night, it’s Dec. 26, and it’s all over, soon to be replaced by New Year’s as the Most Recent Holiday we remember.

Somehow we think adding the hooha will make it seem bigger; instead it makes it go fast. Christmas hooha is Christmas filler, with a taste that’s only faintly meaningful.

So, four years ago, I gave up the hooha. I stopped looking for gingerbread men, stopped stringing Christmas lights around my apartment, stopped trying to figure out whether or not I’d watched It’s a Wonderful Life this year, too. No humbugs or complaining. I was happy during the season and loved me some Luke 2. But there was no use, I decided, trying to get excited about the merely Christmassy things. No use trying to pin this holiday wave upon the sand.

Until, three weeks ago, two days before Thanksgiving, when the spirit of Christmas hooha came looking for me. I had missed one bus home for Thanksgiving and was waiting around for another. I sat in a Chinese restaurant, eating my bland wonton soup and my spicy green beans at a table for one. As I looked out at shadowy passersby through the foggy glass door, I noticed that Christmas music was playing over the restaurant’s loudspeaker. Something faintly holiday, something generic. Other people’s utensils were merrily clinking. Cold air swept in when the door opened, but my neck was warm beneath my scarf. I thought of my family waiting at home, wondering when I would arrive and preparing a bed for when I did. I thought of the weeks of Christmas ahead—how it would only be more of this, this combination of crude commercialism and campy jingle. But I also thought of what I was feeling—a poignancy, cold air and warm skin, a sense of patiently waiting for the good things that will come.

And I realized this, this is the true meaning of Christmas hooha: it’s a holy tenderness for whatever awkward and necessary and God-given thing we are doing now, right now, to celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas in my soup, in the jingle bells on the restaurant door, in the stiff red bow stuck to the cash register. I wanted to stay in that Chinese restaurant from Thanksgiving all the way until Valentine’s Day, sitting and feeling and eating the $7.99 dinner special of cold world and warm truths and finding God in the hooha.