Even though it is "just" a Christmas album and he is making his new tumblr feed (sufjan.com), the whole album release, and the tour into a really fun and zany event submerged in typical Sufjan humor, I really think he's trying to say something deeper with this work. It's a theme he definitely started hammering out with the first Christmas releases, a theme I think he's forced himself to think about by going through the practice of recording a Christmas record every year for family and friends.
You see, when I first heard the new album's title I was confused. It just didn't sound Christmasy enough if you know what I mean, and I thought it would make more sense to keep going with the "Songs for Christmas Vol...?" for the EP titles. He's kind of done this with the individual EPs, but he's also given the entire work a new name all it's own and the EPs have some really crazy titles assigned to them. So far, everything he has put out about the album promotion-wise has been this ambivalent pastiche between the sacred and the profane, between the holy and the kitschy. It is all existing right there beside each other--challenging us. I mean, we have Santa as an axe-murderer right alongside a beautiful acapella version of "Ah Holy Jesus." Are we OK with this horrible pastiche he is giving us? I mean, come on just look at the promotional poster for the tour. It's more than just irony--it's full-fledged satire right alongside full-fledged sincerity.
I think no matter what Sufjan does he has to point to something deeper, he forces himself to tackle deeper themes. I mean Christmas is pretty deep in and of itself (with God coming to earth and all), but I believe what he is doing here is reflecting on the "true" meaning of Christmas while at the same time trying to totally deconstruct the way we celebrate or engage in this whole Christmas thing as 21st century postmoderns (or whatever we're supposed to be called these days).
Apart from all the kitschy zany stuff and the lyrics to "Christmas Unicorn" (which all make my points quite apparent in and of themselves) what really started opening up my eyes to these conclusions was some good old fashioned Bible reading. Recently I've just started reading the book of Isaiah, and here is what I read last night in chapter 4 verses 7-8:
7 Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. 8 Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands,
to what their own fingers have made.
and then in verses 20-21:
In that day mankind will cast away their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to the moles and to the bats, 21 to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
So, in the chapter I read, I saw two references to "silver" and "gold" and this really got me thinking about Sufjan's Christmas album. Then, if you do a search in a Bible concordance for "silver" and/or "gold" you'll find them linked together quite often, and basically every time they are used to contrast between something that is temporary and passing away and something that is eternal, between false worship (e.g., gold and silver idols) and true worship of God (check out First Peter 1:18 and James 5:3). I think this is really amazing and I am wondering if Sufjan meant to put this imagery in his Christmas album. His point being that we have taken something sacred and pure and eternal and awesome (in the best sense of that word) and made if profane and tarnished and ephemeral and degraded as something only to be packaged in plastic for mass consumption.