So much that passes for culture these days is just entertainment. What people consider “culture” is an excuse to have fun. Everything must be full of novelty and excitement. It must be Facebookable and Instagram-friendly. While these fun activities may be popular, they do not constitute culture. They have no depth.
For many, even Christmas need not be meaningful anymore. There are those who think it is an occasion for fun. So much of the commercialization of the Christmas season implicitly has the underlying theme of turning the feast into a big party. As a result, Christmas is no longer what it once was.
Sometimes extreme examples show just how far things have gone; they illustrate the tragedy of turning Christmas into fun. One such example is called the National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. Like all things ridiculous, this practice indicates something is wrong with society. It is a symptom of something much more troubling.
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Making Holidays Fun
According to the holiday’s website, the idea behind the day is to recapture “the magic and mystique of Christmas” that may have “faded with maturity and age.” Participants are asked to buy and wear the ugliest possible sweaters for the entire day on the third Friday of December as part of their Christmas celebration.
The merrymakers wear their sweaters to the office, school, or shopping—i.e., everywhere. The more outlandish the sweater, the better it is. Revelers are told to throw off formality and embrace the absurd. The ordeal should spark enough funny reactions that can later be shared on social media and garner likes and comments aplenty.
Participants are encouraged to “share this special day with friends and help us spread the word.” They can thus join the “hundreds of thousands of people” who take part in the fun. By celebrating National Ugly Christmas Sweater day, the person can find a way “to make the holidays fun … the way they were intended to be!”
But is it all fun and games? There is a disturbing aspect to National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. The holiday promoters are quick to indicate a list of preferred vendors where people can buy ugly Christmas sweaters for men or women. Options include “cute, naughty and funny” designs.
Indeed, a look at some selections reveals more than just garish winter scenes. These sweaters can be crude with primitive depictions of a sexual nature that border on the obscene; these sweaters can also be irreverent, depicting Our Lord and the manger scene in ways that touch on the sacrilegious.
This “fun” celebration exists in a climate of absurdity in which all is allowed, and nothing is sacred. It is not surprising that the sacred would not be spared from abuse, though it is disturbing that offensive messages that sully the innocent nature of the feast would be considered fun.
For many people, however, National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, even with its offensive messages, is only harmless fun. They think fun things have no consequences. Thus, while the practice may be tasteless and crass, they claim it should be tolerated. No one should criticize it. They see it as a right, which, for them, is absolute and supreme. Nothing should restraint it, ever, not even the divine.
When life is considered one big party, the person who talks about danger is a killjoy. However, these things do present a danger because the purpose of life—for everyone—is not fun but sanctification. When things are judged by their ability to produce fun, they start losing their meaning. They become empty and shallow.
This is happening now. People are losing their ability to take things seriously and talk about what Russell Kirk called those transcendent “permanent things” that matter. All society suffers and falls apart as a result.
“We have entertainment that tries to exalt itself into culture,” says Rice University’s Prof. Ewa Thompson, “but [it is]hardly any culture, because culture without the transcendent core becomes entertainment.”
Like it or not, holiday practices like these represent an anti-Christmas in an anti-culture. They detach the august feast of Christ’s birth from the transcendental core of truth, goodness, and beauty that is infused into the Christmas season. Indeed, the Ugly Christmas Sweater Day replaces the core with its opposite in the form of all that is avowedly ugly, crude, and false.
Christmas invites children to use their innocence to ascend toward an accessible Christ Child who is God-made-man. An anti-Christmas invites adults to engage in childish behavior and so descend into hilarity, vulgarity, and obscenity. Christmas should turn people toward God; an anti-Christmas turns them toward themselves.
This is why anti-Christmas celebrations are so sterile and empty. They are reduced to sparkle trees, inane songs, and raucous winter parties. They belong to a feel-good time of the year that may look good on Facebook but feels increasingly joyless. It becomes a period when few are merry, and some dare not pronounce the word “Christ” in Christmas, lest it remind them of the serious matter of our redemption.
For many, it is better not to think of these things. They would rather allow the holidays to become an occasion of fun “the way they were intended to be!”
Christmas was never intended to be fun. It is supposed to be meaningful and joyful for a reason that cannot be ignored:
For unto us a child is born, and a son is given, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6).
This is why the feast must be surrounded by a real and marvelous culture that celebrates all that is wonderful, honorable, and glorious. Christmas was made for all good Christians to come and adore the Savior of the world.