Rocky Road. Depending on where you’re from, this might mean different things to you. In Australia, Rocky Road is a confectionary which is made from a combination of marshmallow, milk chocolate, jelly (jell-o if you’re American), coconut, cherries, peanuts, Turkish delight, and strawberry sauce. It’s pretty much cat-nip for chocolate lovers and sweet-tooths – just about everything delectable in one glorious mixture, a sugar-rush par excellence.
As the story goes, Rocky Road was an Australian invention, when in the 1850’s, someone had the smart idea of on-selling the spoiling confectionery that had finally made it to Australia from Europe. Unscrupulous businessmen would mix the used-by confectionery with low quality chocolate and other fillers, like local nuts and berries and it became known as Rocky Road from the ‘rocky road’ that travellers had to take to get to the Australian gold fields.
The problem with Rocky Road in its current form is food allergies and intolerance. Take peanuts for example – we can’t have peanuts in Rocky Road because peanut allergies can easily kill people. Actually, same for all nuts – so we need to get rid of them all. Then there’s all the people who are gluten intolerant, so Rocky Road will also need to have all the ingredients with gluten removed. Come to think of it, the same goes for lactose, so that’s out. Food colouring makes children go hyperactive, so we’ll have to get rid of anything with food colouring in it. Oh, and I almost forgot the worst culprit of all, sugar. We need to remove anything from Rocky Road that has sugar in it too.
So everyone, I give you the new, non-allergenic, non-intolerant, non-stimulating Rocky Road … uh, actually, it’s pretty much just gelatin … still, it won’t offend anyone’s delicate palate or induce any health conditions in anyone, and once you get past the initial gag-reflex, it’s really not too bad.
I sometimes think Christmas is like Rocky Road. I have a constant battle with an organisation I work for (which shall remain nameless so I don’t get fired). Every year, in the newsletter I write to the people in my department, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Invariably a minion in national office wants to change it to ‘Happy Holidays’ so as not to offend anyone. I’m not really sure what would be so offensive about ‘merry Christmas’ … because it has “Christ” in it? That’s pretty tame, all things considered. It’s not like I’m preaching hellfire and brimstone or starting a holy war. I have atheists wish me a merry Christmas all the time … they’re not offended.
It reminds me of a South Park episode way back in their first season – the students were trying to perform their school Christmas pageant but every group insisted in taking anything out that could have been offensive. In the end, the play was a bland, minimalist performance which everyone hated. As Aesop allegorised, in trying to please everyone, you please no one.
I also think Christmas is a little bit like Rocky Road in different way. I was listening to one of my favourite Christmas albums at the gym tonight to try and get myself in the spirit just a little. There were the usual happy songs – Christmas carols are notoriously saccharine after all.
But there were also some tempered songs, and some sadder songs. It reminded me that Christmas, as much as we want it to be happy, is anything but for some people. “Merry Christmas” – sure, it’s a worthy aspiration, but the happiness that we all feign for the sake of social politeness often hides deep pain, sadness, loneliness, brokenness and shame.
More than any other time of the year, Christmas reminds us of all of the vexatious woe that we’ve managed to repress through the other 364 days of the year. It’s as if the expectations of the warm glow of joy-to-the-world highlights, in stark contrast, the depths of the wretched affliction lurking inside our souls. We remember those who we have loved and lost, of those friends and family who’re estranged, of the mistakes we’ve made, of how broken or ashamed we feel. The fairy lights are out en mass, festively decorating our persona to distract everyone else from the darkness aching inside.
Christmas isn’t one dimensional, but neither should it be. Christmas is like life. Our lives are defined by our successes and our failures … by those we love, those we used to love, and those who we will always love but who are no longer able to love us back … by those things we apologised for, or wish we had have … by those things we did or words we said and wish we could take back, but can’t. Christmas is just one point within the ongoing continuum of life, not separate to it or above it. It’s warts and all, not sanitised and romanticised.
Christmas is like a bite of Rocky Road – the sweet, the crunchy, the nutty, the chewy, the sticky and the soft – all together, indivisible and indispensable. We might like to have Christmas which is always happy, but if we took out all of the bits of life that might cause us sadness or pain, we would also take out all the elements that can make us happy. We might have the safety of a homogenous layer of gelatin, but we would miss out on the flavour and texture, good and bad.
I hope our society doesn’t shun the original meaning of Christmas and turn it into a festival of flavourless, homogenous, non-offensive ‘happy holidays’. The original Christmas wasn’t about making everything emotionally monotone. The gift of Jesus represented a light in the darkness, of hope in the midst of despair. Jesus was born at a time when Israel was under both Roman occupation and the rule of a tyrannical king. Life was hard, but in Jesus, there was hope of something beyond simply eking out an existence. Jesus himself would offer it to those who chose to follow him: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Even for those who do not follow him, the principles of radical selflessness that Jesus taught – give rather than receive, love without expecting love in return, lead by serving – make for a world where everyone can experience more hope and less despair.
So this year, my hope is that everyone has a Rocky Road Christmas – a Christmas which isn’t one-dimensional, homogenous and bland, but instead, is rich and meaningful. I hope that we don’t forget about the sadness, emptiness or brokenness that are a natural part of our lives, but we accept them for what they are. I hope that we can enjoy the blessings we have and are thankful for them, and that we embrace the ideal of hope in the midst of despair, of light in the midst of the darkness – the promise of Christmas for everyone.
May 2020 be a year of deep purpose and deeper joy, and may your Christmas be full of light, hope and love …
… and maybe a piece or two of Rocky Road!