Hello, UUCC —
For some of you, this may be the time of year when you disconnect from our congregational community because things around here become a bit too Christmas-y. Because Christmas is the predominant holiday presence in our congregation’s cultural milieu, we put up a Christmas tree, sing Christmas hymns, host a Christmas Eve service, stage a Christmas pageant, and more. It’s a lot of Christmas, especially for those who do not celebrate it.
Despite the shorthand to which UUs often resort when describing our religious tradition (“you can believe whatever you want!”), there are certain beliefs that UUs hold dear. We believe in interdependency: our actions matter because we are connected to each other, to all living things, and to all living systems around us. We freely and responsibly embark on journeys to search for truth and meaning in the world, believing there is truth and meaning to be found. We believe wisdom is present and available in many sources, from humanist teachings to the lives of prophetic people to the historic observances of the world’s religions, including Christianity.
And that’s where Christmas comes in.
I’d like to think that UUCC’s Christmas traditions are thoughtful and intentional, that every Christmas activity we do is because we recognize there might be wisdom for our lives today to be found in the Christian Christmas story. Maybe this is just cultural inertia leading us to do the things we grew up with, but I’d like to think we observe Christmas because a holiday that invites contemplation on sacrifice, grief, and hope; inspires joy and transcendence; and celebrates generosity is a holiday worth our time and reflection.
In that spirit, here are a few Christmas songs that have inspired me to reflect on the holiday. These songs are not about Jesus. They are not about Santa, the insufferable cheer of jingling bells and consumption-driven nostalgia, or the possessive romantic love that pervades popular holiday tunes. Instead, these are songs that remind me of the complexities of the holiday and encourage me to define its meaning for myself.
The Atheist Christmas Carol by Vienna Teng
The poignant lyrics of Vienna Teng’s “The Atheist Christmas Carol” calls me to embrace the fullness of human experience for Christmas. Just as the cold makes the warmth a “divine intervention,” I am reminded that death gives meaning to hope, and that grace abounds where there is void.
It’s the season of scars and of wounds
Of feeling the full weight of our burdens
And knowing we are not alone in fear
Not alone in the dark
Christmas Unicorn by Sufjan Stevens
“Christmas Unicorn” by Sufjan Stevens is a brilliant and dizzying kaleidoscope of music and text examining the many constructions of Christmas we have made and embraced — from the sacred to the profane, the humble to the hubristic.
I’m a mythical mess with a treasury chest, I’m a construct of your mind
Oh, I’m hysterically American, I’ve a credit card on my wrist
And I have no home or a field to roam, I will curse you with my kiss
White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin
I really like Christmas
It’s sentimental, I know
opens Australian comedian Tim Minchin’s [very sentimental] “White Wine in the Sun” about what it’s like to simply enjoy being with family for Christmas, even if you are “hardly religious” and “get freaked out by churches.”
I’m looking forward to Christmas
Though I’m not expecting a visit from Jesus
I’ll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
Bells by Audrey Assad
This is an ethereal arrangement of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” a well-known carol setting of the poem “Christmas Bells,” written on December 25, 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow after his son enlisted in the Union Army.
From amid the death and destruction of the battlefield, the narrator of the text despairs,
“There is no peace on earth,” I said
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to all.”
Yet as the Christmas bells toll, the narrator’s hope for peace is reaffirmed. He resolves,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, goodwill to all
Christmas in the Room by Sufjan Stevens
These past two years, I savored the quiet intimacy of pandemic Christmases at home with my husband (I recognize how privileged I am to say that I’ve enjoyed any feature of the pandemic at all). “No travel bags, no shopping malls… It’s just an ordinary day.”
No parties planned, no place to go
It’s just the two of us alone
And in the house we see a light
That comes what we feel inside
This year, travel plans and traffic jams have returned. I’m doing my best to hold onto and return to those quiet days “like it’s Christmas in the room.”