by Anne Edison-Albright
I’ve had a phrase in my mind lately and not very many contexts in which I can openly share it. So, I’m sharing it with the Internet. And it is this: “Merry freaking Christmas.”
Perhaps you have your version of this sentiment, with milder or coarser language depending on the context. As my mom taught me, when you substitute a different word for a more vulgar word, you’re still saying the vulgar word. (She explained this to me when I was a teenager and tried to get away with “Gosh darn it.” No doing.)
If my memory is correct, though, it was also my mom who brought the practice of saying “Merry freaking Christmas” into our family and made it one of our most beloved family holiday traditions. We love it so much that we sometimes use it randomly at other times of the year, too. (See also: Happy freaking birthday.) It’s very versatile. You can use it for minor disappointments and inconveniences (rude behavior in the parking lot after the Christmas Eve service) or actual setbacks (like the year my dad got a terrible case of shingles during the fourth week of Advent.) Sometimes it shines a welcome little light of levity when things truly do look hopeless. Other times, it reminds us not to take ourselves and our holiday stressors too seriously. (Important caveat: don’t use it to make fun of other people and their problems. That’s not cool.)
This phrase works so well in my family because it exposes our hidden expectations. That everyone should be kind, especially this time of year. That it is, in fact, “the most wonderful time of the year.” This season favors a particular form of happiness: the family-centered, cozy, warm and comfy nostalgic kind.
The truth is that we are ourselves, at all times of the year, and we often fail to be kind. Wonderful things happen to us during these weeks; also, not-wonderful things. Happiness takes many different forms and sometimes is altogether elusive.
What makes this time of year so special, for Christians, is that we celebrate the incarnation of God, an event that not only exposed but shattered the expectations of the world. We hear, again, the story of a young girl who was engaged to be married and found out she was pregnant. Her fiancé thought about leaving her (and that would have been a kind option) but listened to a little voice in his head and decided to stay. They traveled far from their home to pay taxes to the occupying empire, got there, and found out there was no place for them to stay, and that’s when the baby decided it was time to be born. Merry freaking Christmas. Don’t even get me started about the slaughter of the innocents and the flight into Egypt.
It’s a vulgar thing to say, but that’s kind of the point. When Christmas is sanitized, we lose perspective, and we lose sight of the shocking, vulgar, in-the-flesh reality of Christ’s birth. So, from my family to yours: a gift.
When things go haywire, as they do. When you are disappointed, as you shall be. When truly terrible things happen at the worst possible times, and when mundane problems stack up like so many dried out, super-flammable Advent wreaths … say it with me now: “Merry @#$%&*^ Christmas.” You can insert whatever word you’d like.
Anne Edison-Albright is bishop of the East Central Synod of Wisconsin, ELCA.
This post first appeared on the Women of the ELCA blog in 2014.