Christmas is the season of good cheer? ‘Tis the season to be jolly? Peace on earth, goodwill to men? The Xperience of Christmas has arguably been less whole, peaceful or jolly for Xers than for previous generations.
Holidays have long provided continuity. Their repetitive cycles, traditions and rituals counter the betrayals and disappointments of life. The traditional American holiday season has celebrated family, reunion, benevolence and feasting.
And for a generation that has felt the profound changes of globalization, innovations of cyberspace, and a revolution of family structure, generation Xers still seem to seek out the same values at the holidays–time spent with family, reunion with those afar, exchanges of gifts and elaborate meals.
Yet the record number of divorces amongst Xer parents has meant family and family reunions are disrupted from tradition by the presence of step siblings, step parents, and new configurations of extended family.
What’s the answer to this discontinuity in the holiday? More gifts? Bigger meals? A renewed attention to holiday lore?
But these holiday traditions have undergone profound transformations, too. Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagrasse have redefined the expectations of what a holiday meal means. Holiday feasts may now require two weeks of preparation and thousands of dollars spent on specialty foods, decorations and party favors. And the commercialization of revelry doesn’t stop at the edge of the holiday table.
‘Tis the season to be shopping, proclaim department store decorations. In a culture with the largest-ever disposable income, Christmas spending has become an art form and an expedition. The search for the perfect gift has little to do with relationships, craftsmanship and sentiment, but everything to do with matching the perfect consumer niche with the requisite satisfactory product.
Unfortunately, many of the Christmas movies are no different. This season, Jim Carrey as the Grinch seems like a more traditional Christmas story. Dr. Seuss’ story of redemption and reconciliation is a classic for Xers, and the movie rendition is faithful to the tone and the plot of the book.
And the movie ultimately reinforces the “message” of Christmas–values of giving over selfishness and family over self. Such values are values of continuity.
Yet Xers are faced with more discontinuity from tradition amid the multimillion dollar marketing campaign associated with the film. Even the holiday lore of popular culture is overlaid with a story about consumption at the heart of Christmas.
And what is sometimes lost in the glory of church cantatas, angel proclamations and the living room creche is the profound discontinuity that framed the original Christmas story.
Palestinians living in Bethlehem felt the keen pressure of occupying troops. The excesses of a religious ruling class had gutted the relevance and hope of the synagogues, and divine promises of liberation seemed a world away.
It is within this framework of disruption the Messiah arrived, and the first Christmas gift was given. And this celebration was full of discontinuity too. Shepherds as heralds? Royalty born in a stable? A Saviour in Bethlehem?
Perhaps the Xperience of Christmas might best be met with a renewed attention to the brokenness required for hope to be born.
Andrew Rudd is assistant professor of communication arts at Malone College, Canton, Ohio.