We all want a more joyful Christmas. This doesn't mean it comes easy. The season carries with it a hefty dose of "have-tos," "shoulds," and "we've always done it this way." Some of this is unavoidable and thus acceptance is the sanest response. Much of it, though, is a choice. We can choose to celebrate the season in ways that bring real joy.

Why don't we, then? Experience has shown me two big stumbling blocks. First, tradition. Traditions can be lovely. I imagine all of us participate in cherished traditions each year. They also can be stifling - metaphorical elephants on the chest rather than practices that open our heart. The trick is knowing the difference. You'd think this would be obvious, but it's not. Lousy traditions successfully hide, even from ourselves, all the time. The reason why is the second stumbling block: we don't take the time to listen for what really brings us joy. Thus, culture, habit, guilt, fear, decide for us, and we find ourselves simply repeating last year.

This need not be the case. A different way is possible. We simply need to give ourselves the space to listen for what brings us and others real joy, and the gradual permission to let the rest go.

We'll be doing just this at two upcoming Sample WAYfinding Nights: this Wednesday, December 3, and next, December 10, both 7:00p - 9:00p. It's a great opportunity to experience what WAYfinding is all about and meet folks currently involved. I hope you can join us for this laid-back, meaningful Christmas discussion. If you're interested, have questions, contact me (anne@wayfindinglife.org). 



Many of us experience a good bit of guilt, even fear, when it comes to changing the traditions of our family and culture. A piece of this arises from the notion that Christmas has always been celebrated one way; thus, to deviate from this way is heretical, or worse yet, befitting a Scrooge or Grinch. In fact, Christmas has changed dramatically over the years.

For the past few years, I've kicked off the Christmas season by reading Bill McKibben's "Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas." In it, he details the history of Christmas. I've summarized his points below in the hopes that it will give you, as it did me, permission to reimagine Christmas for our time.

No one knows when Jesus was born.  Gospels offer no clues.  Early Christians thought Jesus’ return was imminent; so, they weren’t concerned (19).  

Fast forward a few centuries.  Okay, maybe Jesus isn’t coming back tomorrow.  Church needed to compete with pagan celebrations.  December 25, Winter Solstice on the Julian calendar, becomes the Feast of the Nativity (20).     

By the end of the thirteenth century, all of Europe is celebrating.  “The midwinter feast was a rational response to the lives they lived.... [It] was a major 'punctuation mark' in the agricultural calendar... between gearing down from the harvest and gearing up for the planting. There was lots of meat from the just-slaughtered animals, and the wine and beer from that year's crop of grapes and grain had just fermented. In this life of extremely hard work and frugality, this season was the sole exception..." (21).    

Wassailing developed.  “Reciprocal” exchange between feudal lords and their peasants.  Peasants receive gifts of food, drink, even money and then they’d “drink to the health of their masters” (23).  It was “a chance for the powerless poor to blow off steam and for the rich to buy goodwill (and buy it cheaply)” (24). 

“Here We Come A-Wassailing”:  “We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door but we are friendly neighbours whom you have seen before.”        

Agrarian society diminishes in 19th and 20th centuries.  Rich and poor no longer know each other, and the rich become increasingly uneasy about these drunken bands of men – often seasonally unemployed – roaming the streets demanding things (24).

So, a group of upper-class New Yorkers set out to reinvent the holiday. 

Clement Clark Moore – whose estate was called Chelsea – wrote the poem we know as “The Night Before Christmas” (26). 

“There was no Santa Claus tradition in this country – no reindeer, no sleigh, no coming-down-the-chimney – until Moore invented it.  …What was most interesting about his invention was that Santa Claus was not an authority figure, not a bishop or a patriarch.  Unlike the mitred and robed Saint Nicholas, he was just a right jolly old elf with twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks, and the famous shaking belly.  Not only that, he looked ‘like a peddler just opening his pack’ – that is, like a lower-class tradesman.  And yet he invaded your home not to cause trouble, demand food, and shake up the social order, but to leave presents!  What a guy!” (27-28). 

Christmas moved to inside the home.  Goodwill to strangers was replaced by goodwill to one’s own children (28).

America’s emerging class of entrepreneurs greeted this change enthusiastically.  “Christmas changed much less in the twentieth century than in the nineteenth – most of our rituals and customs stem from the burst of invention in the decades either side of the Civil War.  But the sheer scale of Christmas has grown enormously” (36). 

"For whatever reason, this newly invented, consumptive Christmas continued to serve the needs of Americans - probably because it was appropriate to a time of slowly growing wealth, and slowly increasing leisure. And it fit, roughly, with the various theologies of prosperity and success that dominated American Protestantism. The cornucopia - the bottomless stocking - of the American Christmas was emblematic of our way of life. So for a long time, Christmas brought considerable joy to most people" (38-39).

What surprised you? What questions remain? Keep wondering and listening...

Christmas has been, and always will be, a product of its time, shaped to fit the particular needs of people, society, and faith in particular moments of history.... There’s no uncorrupted celebration from some distant and pure time in the past that we can simply return to... So if we want to remake it in our image, we must first figure out what problems in our individual lives and in our society we might address by changing the ways we celebrate. We need to search ourselves for clues as to how we might remake this holiday.
— Bill McKibben

Be still and read again these words. What do you hear? What's stirring in you?


Out of what's stirring in you, set a loving intention for this week, this season. Share it with s/Someone.

My suggestion... What is one thing you need more of this holiday season?  Maybe it's more quiet, unplugged moments... by yourself or with family. Perhaps you love to cook and want to do that more... or want to do that a lot less. Maybe you need more laughter. Whatever it is, set it as an intention, even put it on your calendar. Then, and here's the important part, take something else - something ultimately unimportant, something that doesn't bring you joy - off your calendar. Just let it go... and let the joy in.