All that glitters is not gold. So goes the familiar proverb. Which comes to mind when I walk down Orchard Road. This year, the lights sparkle down from the trees, in cascades of gold. Which is really pretty as you walk or drive through. It is the time of year, when people drive down slowly, and the jam is almost deliberate.
The malls are bedecked with tinsel, towering trees and shining baubles. Christmas carols fill the air. For a multi-racial, multi-religious society, I sometimes still feel surprised that there is still widespread acceptance for the gospel message through carol lyrics, and that the plug has not been totally pulled.
In fact, my guess is that Christmas with Christ in it, might be more prevalent in Singapore than in some Western traditional Christian cultures, where it is no longer politically acceptable to play Christmas carols or assume that everyone is ok with celebrating Christmas in the public sphere.
But in Singapore, come early November, the transformation to decorate for Christmas automatically begins, like some primeval instinct. I used to take a jaded and cynical view, of how this was all to lull folks into this happy mood to buy buy buy, and how it was in essence a glorification of commercialism, and not of Christ.
And I would approach the season, Scrooge-like, and how all this Christmas-is-about-giving was just another ploy by shops to get people to SPEND. Friends would tell their kids we give gifts at Christmas because the greatest Gift was given to us at Christ’s birth, but even that didn’t quite cut it for me.
I’d humbug about how “Christmas is not about presents” to my kids and to whoever wanted to exchange presents. (The only gift exchange I really enjoyed was The White Elephant game that my former CG used to play – oh what pranks!) I didn’t want them to grow up associating Christmas with getting STUFF, which they already had too much of, on a daily basis.
But eventually, I was persuaded that it was too Scrooge-like to deprive my kids of ALL presents just because their momma had issues. So with friends, we exchange small presents between our kids, and have (mostly) eschewed exchanging presents between ourselves.
In any case, I usually let them open these ‘end-of-year-bonus’ presents (as I sometimes prefer to call them, because that’s what they are to unromantic me) anytime, and don’t really make them wait till Christmas morning (unless that is specifically requested by the giver), since I feel that it unnecessarily strengthens the false link between Christmas day and receiving a surfeit of presents. Some parents do see it as a good chance to practice patience, and as good training on delayed gratification, but I suppose waiting for one’s birthday to open birthday gifts serves the same function in teaching the same lesson.
However, this year, as I looked at the Christmas lights on Orchard Road, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. Who cares if the shops are doing this to beguile shoppers? In my own heart, I could look upon it as a generous acknowledgement of the glory of Christmas. Who cares if this is no more than a time to party for most people? What matters is my own heart, how I take time to reflect and regard the season. And that was quite liberating.
Then recently, I read this paragraph from an article by Ryan Duncan about Narnia, and found it very thought-provoking:
Over the years, many Christians have taken to the idea of a “War on Christmas”. We believe that if everyone starts wishing us “Happy Holidays” or if we stop calling our decorations “Christmas ornaments” that Jesus will somehow disappear. If we learn anything from this scene in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, it should be that nothing is further from the truth. God is stronger than commercialism, he is stronger than our fear, and He will be moving in this season regardless of what people call it.
Wow. Wise words indeed. So I shall hold them in my heart, even as we step into the final two weeks before Christmas Day.
As the sound and fury escalates to dizzying heights, I shall ponder anew on the miracle of God amongst us, and treasure the Word as Mary did. There will be carolling, there will be rejoicing because Christ has come, there will be decorations and festivities and gift-giving. And I shall try to look upon it all, as giving glory unto Christ, and seek to listen to God’s still small voice, because He will be moving in this season regardless of what people call it. Soli Deo Gloria.