Remember the Griswold’s Christmas Vacation movie with Chevy Chase? It was one of those Christmas celebrations where anything that could go wrong, did, yet they ended up not only with a memorable, but a great Christmas. You might say it’s a model for having a good Christmas—not in all the problems they ended up with, but from the shared living that we get invited into with that movie, and the conversation about that shared experience that viewers often have after seeing the movie together. How often do movies like that bring out the conversations along the lines of “remember when…” and the shared memories and laughs of “Christmases long ago” as the song says?
The fancy word to describe that kind of shared living, and especially conversation around shared experience, is “conviviality.” It’s a word I ran across years ago in my research on what it takes to grow in spiritual fitness. Michael Polanyi, brilliant chemist, physicist, mathematician and philosopher of the last century, pointed out that conviviality—shared experience and conversation—is central to the building of community, which in turn, is central to growing spiritual fitness and resilience. Even experiences where everything is going wrong, as with the Griswold’s Christmas vacation, can be powerful facets of building family and community ties, when it is shared, talked and laughed about.
That’s the key, though, that I don’t remember Polanyi highlighting in his work on conviviality—that community is built with POSITIVE, laughing conversation. Conversation about shared experience can also be belittling, wounding, bitter, and blaming—which does NOT build community!
We always want the holidays to be a great time—is obsessed the right word? So much so that I’ve gotten sick of hearing the line in movie, song or conversation, about making this “the best Christmas ever!” Stuff happens, things rarely go according to plan. The turkey gets burned—or worse, undercooked! The cat knocks the tree over, kids get demanding, that perfect gift just isn’t available, the lights go out, any of a myriad of other things can go wrong to short-circuit “the best Christmas ever.” We can fuss about it—and make it even worse—or laugh about it! We don’t see Mary and Joseph playing the blame game—“why didn’t you make reservations?!” so why should we? Was Mary fussing about her less-than-ideal birthing conditions? Likely not, else would she have “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart?” I don’t think so.
God thought it so important for Jesus to have a such a perfectly imperfect human experience that Jesus was born in a stable, and laid in a manger. It was the gift of God coming in the flesh that made that first Christmas so special. Perhaps we could embrace the divinely imperfect and laughable as well. Have an imperfect, but perfectly blessed Christmas!