Spirituality through Sentimentality: Heresy or Praiseworthy?

I’m getting very sentimental this year.  Next week, I’m leaving on a jet plane for South Asia (India and Sri Lanka) where I’m spending Christmas with a couple friends instead of my family.  It made sense this year.  My parents are on a  mission, and my (0nly sibling) brother is spending Christmas with his in-laws.  I have a friend who lives in the middle east, and is not coming back to America for Christmas, so we’re meeting on the other side of the globe to do some touristy things and celebrate Christmas together.  It sounded like a great idea in September.  Now I’m getting a little weepy and sentimental.  I’m listening to Christmas music every chance I get, spending more time at public celebrations (hello Nutcracker and Santa Lucia at the Swedish Embassy!) and trying to find the perfect presents to put in the mail this week before I go.  Trying to deconstruct these feelings is a bit interesting.  What am I going to miss?  Is it sentimentality over missing my family and the trappings of Christmas, or is it a suspicion that celebrating Christmas in a hotel and on a beach will make the day less special, less focused on the spirituality of the event, and tantamount to skipping the holiday altogether?  I’ve blogged before regarding my feelings about the public celebration of Christmas here.  https://bycommonconsent.com/2007/12/17/im-a-baby-jesus-fan/  I do think that Christmas is a time when the simplest message of Christianity is celebrated (peace on earth, goodwill toward all, service to others, consciousness of Christian duty.)  I think that is fantastic.  I don’t think “the holidays” are a war on Christmas.  I think they are a democratization of the secret joy of Christianity.  Bring on the kitsch.

So I guess the question I’m asking myself this year is whether my spiritual celebration of Christmas will be diminished by the lack of sentimental trappings?  Is that a horrible question to ask?  Normally I hate the confusion of sentimentality with spirituality.  It bothers me that so much church produced material is intended to tug on the tear ducts instead of the conscience.  But at this time of year, my feelings change.  If hearing a stirring rendition of “God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen” on the mall speaker spurs someone towards putting a few coins in the salvation army bowl on the way out, then Hallelujah.  If watching Charlie Brown Christmas encourages someone to put a few more cans of vegetables in the food drive box at work, then God Bless us Everyone.  If watching a Hallmark Hall of Fame encourages someone to call up their crotchety uncle Joe and tell him “Hey, I love you and miss you” then I think there is probably an angel singing somewhere.  I don’t think the trappings create the holiday, but I do think they can help us to be better people at the holidays, and for that, I celebrate the trappings.

So this year I’m going to try and keep my mind on the Christian message that I love: equality, respect, love, peace, and service.  I’ll remember baby Jesus, and adult Jesus, and all the things he taught.  But just for insurance, I’m tucking in my ipod, full of Christmas songs, some wrapping paper, some chocolate, and few surprises for my friends.  As a mere sentimental human, I need all the help I can get.


  1. My family and I drift a little more from the trappings every single year. My wife collects creches and similar object and we put those out, we go to the stake creche exhibit, but we don’t always get a tree, esp. if we’re going out of town.

    We’re hoping to go to Disneyland this year. Most untraditional. But partly because we’ve seen all family members (both sides) in the last 6 months and don’t feel the need to do it again…

    At the core, the question becomes, “What do I feel is essential about the holiday?” For me, it’s being with my kids as much as I can, before they leave home and ignore me. :) It’s like the old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books – deciding what is important is your decision and your decision alone. If it makes you happy at Christmastime, it can’t be wrong.

  2. I feel the same way when I’m in living in a country that doesn’t do Christmas. I need the music at the very least. The hardest for me is when we live in a place where the members of the Church don’t do Christmas (and really, why should they if they hadn’t before they joined the Church?). But I’m always left feeling sure I’m just a little silly.

  3. Molly Bennion says:

    It is precisely because you value Christmas traditions and memories that you are wise to seek a whole new experience when your family cannot gather. Once my husband and I found ourselves with only 1 child able to be with us for Christmas so the three of us flew abroad. We all had a great time and a sweet Christmas. The very difference of the place and its simpler Christmas customs fascinated us and took up most of the mental energy that would have pined for family and tradition had we been at home. The absence of the usual had us all thinking about Christmas freshly, albeit on a beach. I’ll bet you have a choice Christmas.

  4. I am eternally baffled by the word “spirituality” as so commonly used in Mormonism. It is such a nebulous term. In Mormonism it seems to essentially mean “smurfiness”.

    As for skipping Christmas — I am becoming more and more convinced that we humans crave and maybe even need rituals. And Christmastime is rife with rituals. I can totally understand someone feeling like something was missing if they spent Christmas on another continent and thus missed out on all the traditions/rituals taking place at home at Christmastime.

  5. The first Christmas we did not spend with family was a very depressing one for me. It just didn’t seem like Christmas. And then I realized why: there just wasn’t enough food. As someone who didn’t like to cook (and still doesn’t), I had skimped on the food preparations and was reaping the consequences. I haven’t made the same mistake twice.

  6. A Holiday Thought…

    Aren’t humans amazing? They kill wildlife – birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.

    Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative – and fatal – health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.

    So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases.

    Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.

    Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for “Peace on Earth.”

    ~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm by C. David Coates~


    Anyone can break this cycle of violence! Everyone has the power to choose compassion! Please visit these websites to align your core values with life affirming choices: veganvideo.org & tryveg.com

    “Any great change must expect opposition because it shakes the very foundation of privilege.”
    Lucretia Coffin Mott, 1793-1880, minister, women’s rights leader, abolitionist, peace activist, humanitarian

  7. Hehe. Yes JC, humans must be the whole cause of the violence on earth. Surely if we just exterminated humans there would be peace on earth and no animals or plants would ever die again. It’s an ingenious plan.

  8. Vegan blog spam. Whoa…

  9. Karen,

    I love the sentimental aspects of the holiday season and Christmas. I do not like all of it…sentiment is such a personal thing that way.

    Now, I must watch A Christmas Carol.

  10. Chris, I didn’t know vegans believed in Spam. Double whoa.

  11. So this year I’m going to try and keep my mind on the Christian message that I love: equality, respect, love, peace, and service. I’ll remember baby Jesus, and adult Jesus, and all the things he taught. But just for insurance, I’m tucking in my ipod, full of Christmas songs, some wrapping paper, some chocolate, and few surprises for my friends. As a mere sentimental human, I need all the help I can get.

    That is a nice balance between giving in to the smurfs and puritan harshness.

  12. IdahoG-ma says:

    Oh, spam! That’s why vegans don’t eat meat. (head slap)

  13. what a market there must be for tofu spam!

  14. Sorry, but the editor in me has to point out that (0nly sibling) should read (Only sibling). That’s a zero instead of a capital letter O.

  15. While I don’t quite get Geoff’s smurf comment, I do agree that we crave rituals (though we often call them traditions). In our family, which has lived in four countries during our married life with kids) we have tried to hold onto our basic Christmas rituals as a way of grounding ourselves despite where we are. At the same time, we try to embrace the local traditions and expand our horizons a bit.

  16. I feel a deep connection with Christmas traditions, but it’s also important to expand those traditions. As shown in the Book of Mormon, traditions can be great helps or hinderances, depending on if they’re good or bad. I think the process of ferreting out false traditions and replacing them with Godly ones is apt.

    For instance, while a missionary I experienced a wonderful Christmas Eve with a loving member family. They invited us over for dinner, but when we showed up the lights were off and only the faint flicker of candlelight could be seen. We knocked on their door and were lead into their living room, which had been modified for the occasion. A long table which sat about two feet off the ground was covered in all kinds of middle-eastern and Mediterranean foods. We were instructed to wash our hands and sit on the floor to eat. They were trying to recreate a meal that could have been served in the time of Christ’s birth. It was amazing and it made Christmas much more rich for me.