Monday was my day off, and so I thought it would be a good idea to finally get some Christmas shopping started. Of course, it being my day off I did not get started until some time after lunch. When I did finally make it out to brave the cold winds of Columbia (from the inside of my heated car, of course), I took my little old car down to the local Hallmark store.
Bitter wind snapped against my sleeves and I shuddered, walking the fifteen metres to the store and budging the door open with my shoulder. Squealing wind was replaced by some anonymous melody which reminded me of Christmas, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a Christmas carol.
The sickly-sweet smell of scented candles clung to my nostrils as I avoided walking into a display of entirely breakable gift ornaments. It took a moment for me to see it, but at the back of the store were the card racks.
“Funny” I thought to myself, “I thought this was a card shop.”
Hallmark, in case you’ve never been, is like a magical land of expensive junk, the sort of stuff you might buy an aunt who has no children or the kids of a family friend. Nothing anybody would ever want or need, but looks or smells good and has a significant enough price-tag that you could feel you’ve given an adequate present to some your anonymous coworker.
Done with judging the tacky gift options, I proceeded to the cards.
The Christmas Cards took up a whole aisle, with the priciest at the end nearest the door. I quickly worked my way down the display, trying to find the most cards for the lowest price.
Somewhere between the rosy-cheeked Santa Claus and the cartoon Christmas trees, I saw it.
A pale face, staring up at me. A warm glow. Neatly brushed hair. A regally flowing blue robe. It could only be Mary. My suspicion was confirmed when I saw in her arms a glowing baby. This blonde-haired, pale-faced beauty could only be the image of the infant Christ. The warm colours of the picture contrasted with the harsh reds and greens of some of the other cards.
Looking down, I saw an angel holding a trumpet. Hosanna was displayed in an artistic form above his head.
Next to it was a desert scene. Stop me if you can tell me where I’m going with this. There were camels, too. Yes, it was the wise men. Of course, the “Wise Men still seek Him” slogan accompanied this scene in a smart typeface.
“May His peace and His joy be with you this Christmas”
“Christmas fills our homes with blessings”
“…because Jesus fills our hearts with love!
Joy to you this Christmas”
Now, maybe you have already bought some of these cards, if so I’m not going to tell you to go burn them all but all the same I couldn’t help but feel a small amount of bile rise in my stomach as I looked at these cards. Call me a snob (let’s face it, I am), but to my mind there was something a little off-putting about these cards.
“Scrooge!” I hear you cry! “You want the Atheists to win!”
Not so, I promise! I’m as disgruntled by the loss of the centrality of the Christmas story in the winter festivities as anyone, only because that story of the very Son of God coming to dwell on earth reminds us so clearly that we have not been abandoned, though there is such darkness and death in the cold of winter.
But are these Christian, Jesus-soaked, Holy Spirit-dripping, happy-happy, joy-joy Christmas cards are not the greatest way to tell that story. I can picture it now: I open the Christmas mail and see a card from an old high school friend. This friend who I have not spoken to in twenty years sends me a Jesus-drenched Christmas card, reminding me that because I don’t self-identify as a Christian, I’m not really celebrating Christmas.
How can the hope of Christmas be reduced to a one-liner and a cheesy picture? Hallmark are apparently the experts.
For me, the promise of Christmas is too significant, carries too much weight to be reduced to a pre-printed message to be mass-mailed to people I scarcely know.
If Christmas is the story of the ‘Word becoming flesh’ (John 1:14), can it be that a brief sentence or bible verse is the opposite of that message? I might be over-thinking this (I do that all the time), but I still feel giving a religious Christmas card is entirely insincere, at least.
So I left Hallmark with no religious cards in my bag. I tried to avoid the ‘Happy Holidays’ cards too, because I know my English friends would find that extremely annoying.
It just seems a little perverse for me to send a card containing the message of Christ’s hope whilst all the while being aware that I scarcely speak to that person in reality. Instead, I am challenged to imitate Christ and ‘become flesh’ to people I perhaps only speak with digitally this Christmas.
Who wants a pale-faced teenage girl and blue eyed boy staring at them condescendingly, anyway?