Around this time of year, often in Catholic circles, a series of articles or opinion pieces will inevitably challenge the nostalgic sentimentality that accompanies our modern observance of Christmas. One of the most incisive among these is a piece by Auberon Waugh from 1966, which is, admittedly, as biting as it is insightful. But the theme is basically the same: Christmas mustn’t devolve to merely superficial pleasantries, nor its theological content be reduced to the greeting card image of a perfectly composed Holy Family, framed by the glow of a cozy stable and furry animals.
There is nothing sentimental about Christmas, they say, it’s about the raging love of our God, who invades the human experience and makes claims on our lives. Homilists, too, often adopt this theme in their sermons. Fair enough. But if there is any evangelical value to the observance of Christmas in a post-Christian world, it may very well be its captivating charm and disarming innocence. Our daily interactions seem to be increasingly crass, crude and coarse. We are quite evidently living in a culture that has lost all shades of innocence.
If Christmas reawakens something of the desire in us for the purity and beauty by which the human person cannot help but be haunted, so be it. It could be that our nostalgic embrace of Christmas is an attempt to redeem our cultural loss of innocence and recapture some degree of wholesomeness in the face of unrelenting vulgarity. So let us have our sentimental carols and our endearing manger scenes, if only for the challenge they pose to our cultural indecency.