The Prophetic Voice of South Park on the Meaning of Christmas

The Spirit of Christmas (short film)
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Sometimes, I think we get paralyzed because there are so many good reasons to change that we’re paralyzed and overwhelmed by them.  We just cruise along on auto-pilot, heading straight into the side of a mountain.

Every year around this time I come to terms with the idea that there must be something we can do differently.  The holidays, for so many of us, is such a mockery of what it should be… or, at best, there are so many good things about Christmas, so much emotional black mail around bucking the system, that we’re worried about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and missing out.

The interesting thing is that it’s not like I come back to the same reasons to change every year.  As I think about these things for longer, I actually continue to find more and more reasons to change the way I do things.  And yet… I don’t actually do much to change.

This year, I’m working on being explicit about what the problems and solutions are.  I hope I’m not coming across as a grouch.  The dilemna with things like this is that if I wait until after Christmas, while it’s true that I won’t look like a grump, I also will be lacking in urgency.  This urgency will be lacking #1) because I won’t at that point be feeling it, I won’t be writing from the middle of Holiday Crazy Town and #2) I will be further away from the memories of just how backwards things have become.

My goal, for reasons I still am going to defer explaining, is to list 12 issues, problems, and solutions.  In this post, I mentioned the first four.

With no further ado, here is one I would like to add today:

#5) Christmas has become an act of idolatry. 

I’m not complaining about how the Christmas Tree tradition started with the Druids, or about how the December 25th day comes from the Pagans.  I believe that there is an issue that runs much deeper than these things.

The Jesus that I follow and worship is a God of reversals, a God of change, a God of redemption at the deepest level of things.  He is a judo-master, in some metaphysical way.  He reverses things and turns them on their head.  He tears our preconceptions inside out.  He infiltrates the systems of the world and defeats them in a much more thorough way than anybody ever could have envisioned. 

The Christmas-Jesus has become a hood ornament for the world he lives in.  He’s been tamed, simplified, and stripped down.  I have this imag of robber-barons, like the monopoly guy, placing a bit in his mouth and a yoke across their shoulders, saddling him to a cart of material goods.  The robber-barons, metaphorically speaking, are not necesarily those with a lot of money.  They are those who do not recognize that they are poor in spirit because their love of money has blinded them.  (Contrary to the nearly omni-present misquoting, the bible doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil; it is the love of money that is the root of all evil.  And the robber-barons going after Jesus in my little image, some of them have lots of money, some of them have no money. What they have in common is their love of money.)

I know that Santa Claus has become the most obvious symbol of Christmas materialism.  But I don’t think the dualistic thing we’ve created helps much.

What we now have is really 2 Christmases to choose from.  Their is a secular Christmas featuring Santa Claus.  And a spiritual Christmas featuring Jesus.  With it’s characteristic insight, South Park has caputred this well with it’s frequent pitting of Santa Claus against Jesus in Christmas episodes.  I hope you won’t be too annoyed with me if I go so far as to call the sometimes-obscene show prophetic.

One of the more recent Christmas episodes features Santa Claus getting shot down over Iraq and Jesus going in to rescue him.  The two figures here are shown to be allies after all.  I won’t go so far as to suggest it was intentional.  But I do believe that this picture is instructive.

The Setting up of this dualistic Christmas might have been well intentioned.    But it isn’t good. Much in the same way that we save one day a week for acting holy, we save all of our Chrismas holiness for Jesus Christmas, and then go act on all our greedy desires through the secular Christmas.

I’m not saying that we should stop all the Santa Claus imagery.  I’m not saying that the Christians who run around and expect everone to start celebrating the holiday like them are right.

I am saying that we ought to turn our critical eyes inward.  Are we celebrating our Christmas in a manner consistent with God’s ways?  It’s not enough to put a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” sign in the window.  The question we really need to explore is the question: are we trying to have our cake and eat it too; are we trying to steal the best part of the secular holiday and just cover it all up with a gloss of Jesus?

Running around in all this, there is actually a sort-of perversion of the trinity.  The part of God The Father playbed by Santa; the part of the Holy Spirit played by the reindeer and the elves and the other magic that gets Santa all around the world, everywhere he wants to be.

If I hit my goal of 12 principles, I’ve got 7 more to go.  What do you think ought to guide our reclamation of Christmas?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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