Some Thoughts on Abundance & Materialism

In Wednesday’s post, I attempted to echo Ellen’s post in saying that a fleshed-out Christmas–one with decorations! and presents! and lights! and music! and cookies!–is one good and fitting response to a holiday celebrating God’s Incarnation as a flesh-and-blood man in this smelly, fragrant, musical, discordant, delicious and disgusting world. Special gifts, special music, special food, special decorations are good things.

Sure, they can be overdone. I remember taking a run (back when I used to run) around a suburb I was visiting the day after Christmas. I was stunned by the size of the trash piles in front of almost every house: boxes and wrapping and discarded, old things, thrown out, ostensibly, to make room for the new things. But maybe holiday excess results not so much from being too materialistic, but from not being ‘materialistic’ enough. As Margaret Kim Peterson writes in Keeping House:

“Many things in life, whether food or household objects, are truly good. They are to be treated with appreciation and respect, and sometimes this means saying no to too much. This does not mean being ‘less materialistic.’ In a way, it means being more materialistic. It means taking material things seriously enough to be willing to get rid of them or to decline to acquire them in the first place.”

Indeed: sometimes we have to ‘make room’ so we can truly enjoy the goodness of material things. We only have so much room in our stomachs, in our homes, and in our days. Sometimes, a background of simplicity makes room for even better celebration: Christmas cookies aren’t nearly so special when you eat them every day, every week or every month.

No: their proper time and place is only at Christmastime.

There’s something good in that, I think.

The Winter Solstice

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death–upon them hath the light shined.”

Remember days like this? There as far away–and as close–as they’ve ever been.

In this darkest, coldest season, we are creeping closer to the light–

” for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…”

happy Solstice!

Hail, Hail, the Word Made Flesh!

(CC licensed. Original here)

Last Sunday (Advent IV) I posted these lyrics to What Child is This?–lyrics that are absent from any of the hymnals I have. I noticed them, finally, on Sufjan Stevens’ beautiful Songs for Christmas:

Why lies He in such mean estate

Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!
My instinct–as a former student (and then teacher) of English–is to dissect this poetry or “explicate” it, to use my adorable Victorian literature professor’s term. Instead, I want to look at something else: the material, embodied, flesh-y things we do at Christmas.
We give gifts.
We eat food, rich food.
We hang lights, decorate trees, mark calendars, listen to (and make) glorious music.
My friend Ellen Painter Dollar has a post on her new Patheos blog called Blessed are the Christmas Makers. It’s more than worth going over there to read it in full, but here’s a tidbit to entice you:
“[Are] the traditions that so many bemoan as stressful and wasteful and beside the point are actually utterly appropriate for a holiday that celebrates God’s coming not as an ethereal spirit but as a squalling, hungry, needy newborn with flesh and blood and bone, born in a barn full of stinking, hairy, snuffling animals. Christmas traditions fill bellies, delight the senses, and literally brighten the early-winter darkness. Christmas traditions are about loving other people in tangible ways, in ways they can touch, taste, feel, smell, hear, and see. And isn’t the true meaning of Christmas that God loved the world in the most tangible way possible?”(CC Licensed; original here)
Yes. We celebrate the Incarnation by creating tasty, beautiful, sonorous, fragrant, comforting things. This is not blasphemy. It is not missing the “spiritual point.” In fact, it might just get to the point best of all.
Hail, hail, The Word Made Flesh!


So. Many. Cookies!

One of my favorite books of all time–a book I loved as a child and still love–is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. And one of the best parts of that book is the chapter on Christmas–it’s the one where the cousins come and Laura receives her rag doll, Susan. {Charlotte! Not Susan! Susan was my rag doll. And the Ingalls’ cat.} But as in all the Little House books, Laura’s keenest memories seem to be about food.(See why I love her?)

“Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas. She baked salt-rising bread and ‘Injun bread,’ Swedish crackers, and a huge pan of baked beans, with salt pork and molasses. She baked vinegar pies and dried-apple pies, and filled a big jar with cookies, and she let Laura and Mary lick the cake spoon.”

My sons love the ‘Laura books,’ as they call them, and while they’re most intrigued by Pa’s guns and tales of wild animals, they also like all the ‘food parts.’ And they like begging for (and eating) cookies. So does my husband. He’s been eating–and stealing–so many cookies that I made some Type II diabetes crack at him this morning.He looked wounded and said, “you shouldn’t call your blog ‘eat with joy.’ Teasing me about diabetes is not joyful. Don’t make fun of how many cookies I’m eating!”

Okay, sweetheart, okay. You’re right. Christmas comes but once a year, and good thing, too, because making 5 dozen cookies a day is not sustainable in any sense of that word. I’ve been spending almost as much time in the kitchen as Caroline Ingalls!

{Though she wasn’t lucky enough to have a temperature-regulated oven, much less a KitchenAid stand mixer. So I’ll quit whingeing.}

Here’s hoping your holiday preparations are filling you with much more pleasure than pain!