The church has its Christmas Eve service coming up, like so many others do. I've been paying attention to the planning, and its been interesting to note a certain tension that is involved. I am not referring to tension between people, but tension between philosophies or approaches.
There are some folks who approach Christmas, which is particularly steeped in tradition, as an opportunity to get connected with the past. These individuals appreciate doing things in the same way year after year, as has been done since time immemorial. For them, absent these traditional trappings, it just doesn't "feel like Christmas."
There is something distinctly Jewish about this way of thinking. The Jewish Feasts that are recorded in the OT are supposed to be carried out the same way year after year. The idea is to take the past and make it present, so that people in the now can feel a kind of solidarity with the people of way back when. In part, that is what the Lord's Supper (Communion, Eucharist) is supposed to accomplish.
So when people complain that non-traditional celebrations of Christmas don't "feel" right, I think they are probably missing that sense of solidarity with the past.
By contrast, others feel that it is the Christmas story itself that provides the connection with the past, and want to see it expressed in new ways. They like to get involved in the creative process of expressing the impact of Christmas. Perhaps they feel that it is in the effort to express Christmas that they find solidarity with the people of the past; by doing what they did, expressing Christmas to their own time and place.
So when these folks complain, however tactfully and quietly, that Christmas services are always the same, maybe they are expressing frustration with their inability to experience solidarity with the past.
I think the common element is that desire to feel solidarity with the past. I think to some extent we all feel the need to be connected to something beyond ourselves, and that includes being rooted in history. By placing ourselves in continuity with the past we feel a part of it, and the present, and part of the future as well. I think that's why genealogy is as popular now as it is.
But we all express that need differently. Some feel the need to bring the past into the present, and others feel the need to re-express the past in the present. Its a shame that we can't seem to find a way to accommodate both of these.