Why A Cynic Like Me Loves Holiday Magic

christmas-magic-present-2560x1600I have a very special talent. I am exceptionally gifted at being cynical. Liz Lemon might have me beat on the “masterpiece eye roll,” but I’ve gotten pretty good over the years at being critical, scoffing, and demonstrating a precise kind of disdain. I grew up in a family that placed a high value on sarcasm. My dad was particularly good at it and trained his son well. It was mostly a playful kind of sarcasm, but as I’ve grown older such gaiety had morphed from simple sarcasm into something more akin to sardonicism. But despite this deeply rooted characteristic I confess, I love the holiday season. I love everything about it. I love Christmas trees and Christmas lights. I love Frosty the Snowman, the Grinch and all those myriads of Holiday special clichés, you know them: “Christmas miracles,” “tis the season,” and especially “Holiday magic.” I love stocking stuffers and Christmas carols, expecting snow, and warm cocoa. I love it all. Which raises a peculiar question in my mind: why? How can I be so cynical all year round and yet jump on the ridiculously absurd bandwagon that is the “holly jolly holidays”? Three potential answers present themselves to me as I reflect sincerely on my love of Christmas.

For starters the truth about cynicism is that it’s tiresome. Being critical all the time comes with its own ball and chain. There’s a kind of joy that can come from cynicism but it’s mostly artificial. It finds pleasure not in things, people, or experiences, but rather in the destruction of such things. It is inherently deficient. Christmas magic offers me a break from that cynicism. If I am willing to play along with all the games, the magic, the “Christmas miracles” then I can actually experience pleasure and joy and excitement. It’s not that I am naive about the realities of the world’s brokenness and my own grief during the holiday season – I’ve written about that elsewhere. Rather, even such sorrow seems sweet this time of year. The holiday affords me an opportunity to suspend my cynicism and just dive into the beauty of a “winter wonderland.”

Christmas also reminds me of hope. It does so beautifully in a rich theology of the incarnation. Of course I recognize the subjectivity of the holiday. December 25th is not the actual birthday of Jesus, nor has it always historically been celebrated as such. There is a sense in which Christmas is a national holiday subject to much differing interpretation, that doesn’t bother me – though I suppose it does some Christians. There is a theology associated with my celebration though, and it is rich and deep and hope-filled. It points not simply to the birth of Christ, but because of that birth it points to a new world. My Christmas points beyond the birth of Christ to the world that He has promised to redeem, rescue, restore, and renew. There is a Kingdom coming for this King born in a manger. There is a beauty and glory that accompanies Him. There is an end date for sorrow, suffering, and injustice. Christmas points to these things, and so I throw myself into the celebration of the season with full-force. I embrace the promised-future with each snowflake I catch on my tongue. I breath in the coming Kingdom with each scent of pine. I express tireless hope with each Christmas carol. My theology invites me to enjoy the “magic” of the holiday season because it points me to the real thing that is coming.

Christmas reminds me too of my childhood. There’s a bit of nostalgia that takes root in my heart this time of year. It recalls simpler times. I remember waking up at my grandparents as a kid and rushing downstairs to see our presents. I remember making Christmas cookies with my mom, and eating lots of them too. I remember searching catalogs and marking presents I wanted, decorating the tree, getting new Christmas ornaments. I remember family, food, fun, and festivities with great fondness. It was hard being a kid and moving around as much as my family did. My mother reminds us of a Christmas morning where we opened up presents packed everything up, drug the tree to the curb, and moved. The moving meant I loss lots of friends, changed houses, changed schools, and often felt rootless. Yet, there was always Christmas. You could always count on Christmas to come, for the family to be together. To celebrate with familiar traditions that created a sense of stability. Christmas is dear to me because it has always been dear to me, it reminds me of sweet memories of childhood.

Honestly I don’t know if I can explain how someone as cynical as me can enjoy the holidays like I do. There is a ton of cliché and kitsch that comes with it. Any other time of the year I would roll my eyes with a heavy sigh. But I think there’s some sense in which I really do believe the season is magical. It really is a unique time of year, there’s nothing else like it. There are songs I wait all year round to listen to. We get to add new elements to our routines, revisit old familiar traditions and habits. There’s a warmth that I feel in those “first few flakes of snow.” There are Christmas parties to attend, friendships to rekindle, family with whom to reconnect. The season is, at least for me, genuinely special. So, I am a cynic. I know it and it’s something I need to work harder to change, but while I do I am going to continue to look forward to Christmas for that boost I need to help me fight cynicism all year round.

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