Christmas Liturgy, By Stuart
Homeschooling our kids has made me think a lot about some big questions. I’ve typically never been one to go with the flow for the sake of going with the flow. So, when we decided to homeschool I had to wrestle with some why and what questions. It turns out that questioning education opens up some pretty big and perennial questions about human nature.
One thing I’ve come to understand and appreciate more clearly about us homo sapiens is that we are (to put it in a crass way) creatures of habit. We naturally order our lives habitually. Sometimes we do this with forethought and purpose, but mostly we develop habits without thinking and through outside influences that draw us into a way of life. Not only are we by nature habitual but the habits of our lives begin to shape us (educate us) at a deep level, like a tree growing out of a mountain side is shaped by the terrain and weather.
This kind of education is caught more than is taught because it happens so subtly and is affecting things in us that are buried underneath or behind our intellect. Like infrared and ultraviolet light that hides behind the spectrum of visible light, it takes developing a special way of seeing in order to perceive how the formative habits we have (most often unconsciously) developed are playing a role in who or what we become (sometimes in spite of what we have “learned”). Consequently, these are the things most neglected in an approach to education that focuses on mind formation over the imagination, the heart, the body and the soul.
The term liturgy has been used by others as a category for this. I now try to think about those routines, those habits, those practices that are not just something we do but are something that do something to us. It has been helpful to think of this about my own formation but it becomes particularly important when I think of my children and the kinds of things that are really educating them.
For us, Christmas time is one of those special times where we naturally fall into a liturgy. Most families have their traditions, and many people have Christmas memories from childhood. The way my family kept Christmas growing up had a big impact on me now that I am older. Christmas time is one of those natural times to capitalize on a thoughtful liturgy for our family. It helps us cultivate those things we think are most important. Not everyone does “Christmas” per se, but there is still something set apart about the winter season that I think lends naturally to developing a seasonal liturgy. Even pre-Christian peoples typically had some kind of festival or celebration that set winter time apart (many of the Christmas traditions that we do come from pre-Christian Germanic people. These traditions were imported into Christmas as Christianity spread).
A lot of what I desire for my children (and still for myself) is the development and cultivation of their imaginations, a sense of wonder at the world, a love and dedication to their family, and affections and passions that aren’t held captive by materialism. What better time than Christmas time to cultivate those things? It already has all the elements of a good liturgy: the natural changing of the season from fall to winter; the magic of snow and waking up to a world made new and fresh by a white blanket; old stories that bring the past alive and invoke wonder and curiosity on young (and old) minds; special smells from the kitchen as mama stands over the pot of hot chocolate; familiar songs that tell a story both ancient and new; a table packed full of good food and lots of family; evenings gathered around the fire; giving (and getting) thoughtful gifts to (and from) those you care about; the anticipation of Christmas morning and the sense of the otherworld.
Call me nostalgic (it would be true). Call me old fashioned (that would be truer). Call me antiquated, outdated, a simpleton or more (all accurate). But I will keep Christmas and educate my kids in the ways of the old magic, that fills stockings and makes reindeer fly, and makes hearts grow three sizes, and lights Christmas trees and instills awe and wonder in those whose faith has yet to burn out.