In Defense of Christmas Tackiness

I love this passage from Ratzinger's Dogma und Verkundigung, 1977. I wrote a column on this very topic last year --before I was aware that an infinitely subtler mind than mine had said something so similar. Thanks to my friend in the publishing biz for digging this up for me as I don't "do" German. [But --ahem-- it doesn't relieve him of the duty to publish the dang column this year, since he commissioned it.]

Nowadays a theologian or preacher is all but expected to heap more or less sarcastic criticism on our popular way of celebrating Christmas and, thus, to contrast impressively the sentimentality of our celebration with the reality of the first Christmas. Christmas, we are told, has been commercialized irredeemably and has degenerated into a senseless marketing frenzy; its religiosity has become tacky.

Of course, such criticism is largely justified, even though it might too readily forget that, behind the facade of business and sentimentality, the yearning for something purer and greater is not entirely extinguished; indeed, that the sentimental framework often provides the protecting shield behind which hides a noble and genuine sentiment that is simply reluctant to expose itself to the gaze of the other.

The hectic commercialism is repugnant to us, and rightly so: for it is indeed utterly out of place as a commemoration of the hushed mystery of Bethlehem, of the mystery of the God who for us made himself a beggar (2 Corinthians 8:9). And yet, underneath it all, does it not originate in the notion of giving and thus the inner urgency of love, with its compulsion to share, to give of oneself to the other? And does not the notion of giving transport us directly into the core of the mystery that is Christmas?

In the offertory prayer of the Christmas Vigil liturgy, we ask God for the grace to receive with joy his everlasting gifts that come to us in the celebration of Christ’s birth. Thus the concept of gift-giving is squarely anchored in this liturgy of the Church and, at the same time, we are made aware of the primal mode of all giving at Christmas: that God, on this holy night, desired to make himself into a gift to mankind, that he turned himself over to us.

The one genuine Christmas gift to mankind, to history, to each one of us, is none other than Jesus Christ himself. Even those who do not believe him to be God incarnate will have to admit that he has enriched and gifted the inner existence of generations upon generations.