A new holiday movie, Christmas With the Kranks, could help us celebrate Christmas better this year. It is based on the slight but charming 2001 novel Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham, in a major departure from his usual legal thrillers.
The novel opens on the Sunday after Thanksgiving with Luther and Nora Krank at the overcrowded airport, sending their only daughter off to teach in the Peace Corps for a year. Both parents dread the prospect of celebrating Christmas without Blair, but their depression takes different forms. Nora frets about Blair’s safety; Luther, a tax accountant, calculates what the family spent last year on Christmas: $6,100 with “precious little to show” for it.
So Luther proposes that he and Nora don’t “do Christmas” but take a 10-day cruise to the Caribbean, leaving at noon on Christmas Day. They will have a fabulous time and still save $3,000, he promises her.
Nora is hard to convince, but agrees on the condition that they contribute their usual tax-deductible charitable donations ($600) to the Church, toy drive, homeless shelter and food bank. But many smaller requests will go unanswered.
The Tyranny of Christmas
Neighbors, co-workers and friends see the Kranks’ plan as subversive. The 42 houses on Hemlock Street are always decorated with lots of lights and identical snowmen on their roofs. But this year, because the Kranks’ house is dark and their Frosty is in the garage, Hemlock Street wins no neighborhood award for Christmas decorations. The tight-knit community turns on the Kranks, urging them to conform.
The Scouts can’t believe someone doesn’t want to buy a Christmas tree for $90, even though Luther promises a donation for their summer “camporee.” The police and firefighters hawking calendars and fruitcakes are shocked when Luther turns them down.
But of course, at the last minute something forces the Kranks to change their “no ho, ho” plans and conjure up a material Christmas at home after all. In the end, Luther proves that generosity is part of the true Christmas spirit.
Genuine Need to Simplify
Skipping Christmas plays for laughs, but also rings so true that it hurts. We all struggle with “keeping up with the Joneses” in decorating and gift-buying. We get dizzy trying to balance conforming to others’ expectations with living up to our own values.
The materialism with which we Americans wrap the holiday is contagious and overwhelming. Most of us have too many “things” in our lives already; we can’t figure out where to put any new “stuff.”
Yet I understand why the Kranks’ Methodist minister could not bring himself to endorse their radical plan, despite his own weariness with shopping. Gifts imply that someone thought of you. We body-souls need external, material signs to signify what’s in our hearts. We sensing creatures need to see lights swallow the darkness, hear carols that remind us of the baby born “away in a manger,” smell home cooking that reminds us of happy Christmases, past or imagined.
So how do we simplify our holidays? I’m certainly no expert. The longer I live, the more people I know, the longer my lists for gifts and Christmas cards get.
But here are a few ideas to spark your ideas for celebrating more simply:
1) See if activities can be substituted for some gifts. Last year three friends and I eschewed our usual exchange in favor of going out together for a fancy dinner. Make getting the Christmas tree a family excursion. Go downtown or to the mall just to appreciate the lights and decorating creativity—no shopping allowed!
2) Avoid overindulging in food or drink over the holidays. Parties should be to enjoy others and imbibe the spirit (not spirits) of the season.
3) Set reasonable limits on your spending, even in regard to charitable giving. What organizations do you really want to help this year? Maybe spread your donations across 12 months.
4) Do something, such as caroling at a nursing home, or packing holiday food baskets for the poor, or making the angel costumes for the children’s pageant. But you don’t have to do everything.
5) As a family, examine your holiday traditions and see if you have outgrown some. Maybe stockings don’t have to be hung for college kids.
6) Prepare to open your heart wider at Christmas, to make more room for Jesus. Let the Scripture readings for Advent “fill every valley.”
What If Jesus Had Skipped Christmas?
In Skipping Christmas, one of the Kranks’ neighbors, who last year did no exterior Christmas decorating, this year has thrown lights over everything that will stand still. It turns out his wife, who has been battling breast cancer, may lose the battle and this may be her last Christmas.
Different times in our lives call for different styles of Christmas celebrations. The new empty-nesters were right to realize their Christmas would—and should—be different without their daughter. My mother’s parents died shortly after hospitalizations over Christmas, and those Christmases were rightfully simpler.
The Kranks were on to something, but boycotting Christmas is too extreme. It’s not really an option for Christians. What if Jesus, knowing that Good Friday was coming, had chosen to skip Christmas? The fact that God knew what his beloved Son would face but still thought we humans were worth redeeming should give us hope in ourselves and a real reason to celebrate wisely. B.B.