13 December 2021 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
I’ve got my Christmas decorations up, I’ve got presents under the tree, the house decorated, and right in the tall corner of my living room a gorgeous tree that I spent a whole day decorating. I love it!
Now I learn that an elderly uncle and aunt want to stop by for Christmas on a trip they’re taking. They have strong opinions about the origins of Christmas, and their most severe ire is reserved for the Christmas tree itself. I already know Aunt Edna will quote Jeremiah 10:3-4, which she apparently knows by heart:
For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
She has told us before that this is a prophecy of Christmas trees, and I’m sure that having one in my house will mean I follow “the way of the heathen,” in direct contradiction to Scripture. What to do?
Signed, Christmas Fun Spoiled
Dear Spoiled Fun,
Unless you have carved your tree into a statue of Baal, there is absolutely no chance that you are violating Jeremiah 10. That passage is about carving idols, covering them with real gold and silver, and then worshiping them.
For years this theory about Christmas trees being pagan has been floating around. It is balderdash. Even the notion that the ancient European pagans worshiped trees has been refuted. While probably lots of people in all ages brought sweet-smelling pine boughs into the house to chase away the winter blues (and who can blame them?), the current thinking is that the Christmas tree is a relatively modern invention. From the Encyclopedia Britannica:
The modern Christmas tree originated in western Germany. The main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a “paradise tree,” a fir tree hung with apples, that represented the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up a paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it (symbolizing the eucharistic host, the Christian sign of redemption); in a later tradition the wafers were replaced by cookies of various shapes. Candles, symbolic of Christ as the light of the world, were often added.
So much for that. But Aunty feels compelled to address a deeper question.
Behind so many of the questions Aunty receives is this problem: how do I deal with friends and relatives and fellow church members who have strong opinions, and are willing to ruin everyone else’s nice time—sometimes in my own home while partaking of my hospitality?
Maybe because we let them?
We peace-lovers suppose that to resist someone who is unkind to you is itself unkind—that you should just turn the other cheek and let them create a knot in your stomach and ruin every nice occasion for everyone else. (By the way, this is why the loudest, meanest, most critical people can often run roughshod through congregations, while some of the gentle people get discouraged.)
It isn’t necessary for you to be unkind in return. If someone slaps your cheek you don’t slap them back, but you do move beyond arm’s reach.
In these difficult relationships, whether it is someone picking political fights over dinner, or criticizing the food or the housekeeping, or taking exception to your Christmas decorations, or assigning you to hell fire because you don’t agree with their theology, your strategy is to be assertive but not angry.
Assertive and angry are quite different things. You don’t need to be angry to be assertive. So to Aunt Edna, should she bring this up, you can smile sweetly and sincerely and say, “Dear Aunt, you know we love you very much. But this is how we celebrate Christmas in our house, and we like it this way.” If she answers back, don’t get pulled in to arguing with her imaginary theology. Just keep the same smile and say, “Oh, I’m not discussing it, Aunt Edna. The tree is in my house, and we and our children and grandchildren like our decorated tree.” And should she persist, you might add, “If you can’t be comfortable here, perhaps this isn’t the place for you this Christmas?”
Keep your tone of voice soft, maintain eye contact, and always make sure your smile is warm and sincere. A similar strategy can be used to shut up the political agitator at the Christmas table.
It is time for all of us in families, biological or church, to stand up kindly to people who use self-righteous aggression to take advantage of others.
Like Aunt Edna, God bless her.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published — always without identification of the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.