by Gretchen R. Crowe
Audiences were first introduced to Ebeneezer Scrooge’s curmudgeonly “Bah, Humbug!” in 1843 with the publication of Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol,” and over the last 179 years, the phrase has become iconic in popular culture. Of course, Scrooge used the exclamation to express his disapproval of the abundance of holiday festivities. “If I could work my will,” he growls to his nephew Fred at the start of the story, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” Humbug!
Nearly two centuries might have passed, but the “humbug” sentiment most certainly continues to be embraced in modern times. At this time of the year, we can easily be drawn into our own humbug-itis: Christmas preparations started too early — humbug!; generic “holiday” wishes have replaced tidings of Christ’s birth — humbug!; elves on so many shelves have drowned out any semblance of the “reason for the season” — bah! Humbug.”
And I get it. When bombarded by Amazon gift catalogs, 24/7 Christmas music starting just after Halloween or decorations up before Thanksgiving, the Advent season can seem not just an afterthought but a never-thought. We also might fall into the temptation of dwelling on how the number of people unaffiliated with religion is rising, and how this is particularly evident this time of the year when fewer and fewer people are connecting Christmas with the birth and coming again of our Savior. The secularization of our culture is real, and it’s deeply concerning. Humbug.
God is with us
Yet, sometimes things can surprise us. In our home, our two oldest had Christmas recitals on back-to-back weekends just after Thanksgiving this year. She danced (the cutest angel you ever did see), and he played piano (including two duets with his proud Mama).
When our daughter joined her dance program in August, I had one main goal: I wanted her to be at a place where she could make friends and have fun while not being forced to wear a crop top. I found a local program that operated with Christian values, and I signed her up. But I never imagined how delightfully Christian it would be. I never imagined that the girls would talk about what they are grateful for ahead of Thanksgiving or be encouraged to think about those who go without at this time of the year. I never imagined the Christmas dance recital would be called “A King Is Born,” where, for an hour-and-a-half, we would watch the story of the birth of Christ being performed on stage by dancers of all ages. I never imagined that the audience and dancers would pray together, led by a teacher who boldly and joyfully proclaims Christ. I never imagined that our children would be encouraged to dance their hearts out for the glory of God. It was refreshing and hopeful beyond words, and I truly understood the gift that we were being given with this program. No humbugs, just Emmanuel. God is with us.
In the middle of recital weekends, our family traveled about an hour north to attend a concert by Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell. We had started listening to his music as a family during the pandemic — when he’d sing on Facebook Live and the album he released in 2020 was a soundtrack for our fall. We watched a live-streamed concert he offered, and we all loved it. So when we could attend one of his shows this year, we jumped on it. And once again, I was filled with hope. Never did I imagine that his performance would be so filled with family and faith, including a celebration of his marriage, a loving tribute to his mother and a video of his granddaughter learning the violin. Never did I imagine a song about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and an entire portion of the program devoted to the Nativity story. No humbugs, just Emmanuel. God is with us.
It’s easy to get cynical. It’s easy to think, amid the commercialism and the secularization, that no one out there actually believes anymore. But this year, I was reminded that faith is more alive than one might think and that if we try, we might notice it more. And for that, I can only say, “God bless us, every one!”