It is sought after by everyone. It is a quest that begins every year after Thanksgiving and burdens us until new years. We all muddle through the month of December desperately seeking that feeling, those sweet sentiments of Christmas past. We have food and drink, enjoy concerts, music and film, read books and burn incense, hang ornaments and play games. All done tenderly as we seek to recreate magical moments from our past. Sharing the magic of leaving cookies and milk for Santa Claus, the excitement and anticipation of gifts on Christmas morning, the satisfaction of the turkey dinner and the languid peace of falling asleep in front of the fire afterward. All of these things are pieces of the ritual of Christmas that our society has created, gradually, through the decades.
Some speak in hushed, reverent tones of the meaning of Christmas, as though they are talking of the meaning of life. Most often these discussions conclude with talk of family and love, peace, sharing and giving (all noble, to be sure). Occasionally people will declare with conviction that Christmas is about Christ and the baby Jesus coming to earth. Although, sadly, this is often an afterthought whispered by people too embarrassed to declare openly their love for Christ, lest their celebration of Christmas interfere with those simply celebrating 'The Holidays'.
We have been lulled into a sentimental mush of humanistic self indulgence, and I fear it is more damaging than simple misdirection. The traditions of our culture have taken over the formerly Christian celebration of our salvation in Jesus Christ. As we have moved through time we have slowly adopted humanistic, religious and animistic traditions into our own Christmas celebrations.
We begin the indoctrination with the young, telling our children that if they behave that Santa Claus will bring them presents on Christmas day. This introduction to animism is subtle but is always clearly understood by a child. They are given control over the spirit of Saint Nicholas by their actions, and they believe it. We encourage them to write letters to Santa, some children pray to him, and we cinch the deception by having them leave cookies and milk for the spirit and ensure that it is gone by morning, confirming his existence in their minds.
This fall, as I did some Christmas shopping, I strolled through an antique shop that offered a large variety of Buddah and Ganesha statues. As I continued to visit other shops, many offered relics, small idols, icons and religious trinkets. It gave me pause as I thought how strange that a society striving so hard to be independent of religion would provide a thriving marketplace for such items. Then I began to notice the number of Saint Nicholas statues that were to be found as well. I began to wonder just how comfortable we are with having graven images of spirits in our homes.
It may very well be that you've already dismissed this article as being hyper conservative legalistic tripe. It is the farthest thing from my mind to stick a pin in the spirit of Christmas. Heaven forbid that we think critically about why Christmas is the way it is and why we do the things we do. I want to draw attention to the misguided affection for Christmas that exists. I've heard a lot of people say that Christmas has become 'so commercial' and that all of the commercialism is destroying Christmas. I would contend that it is not the commercialism that is the problem with Christmas, but that it is a symptom of far deeper problems. The Spirit of Christmas is a sacred thing in our society, as exemplified by the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, anyone who cannot 'get into the spirit' is a humbug. Sidelong glances are cast, whispers of antisocial are heard at water coolers with some conviction and a certain amount of self righteousness. It is unacceptable to contravene the current social traditions of Christmas (parades, trees, gifts and all).
If we cast aside the animism of Santa Claus, and the obvious pitfalls of lying to our children and look more directly at just what it is we love about Christmas, perhaps you will follow my point.
We have trained ourselves to revel in avarice, gluttony, self indulgence, pride and selfishness. The quest for the perfect Christmas is about us, it's about feeling good and happy, for many it's about filling the lonely hole within. We deceive ourselves and say that it's all about family, yet most often we fight with family as we get in each others way while seeking yet another perfect moment. Some spend a great deal of time and money to aid charities at Christmas, earning themselves the right to enjoy Christmas, neglecting the great need throughout the year. Many of us even wander into church in an attempt to contribute to our Christmas experience, forgetting entirely that we should be there in abandon to ourselves to honour the God of Heaven. Even in the giving of gifts, aside from the excitement of receiving piles of shiny trinkets, the wonderful feelings of goodness in giving to others, can (and often is) as much about cozy warm narcissism as it is about simple giving. This is pride.
It is these attitudes that have created the commercialism of Christmas, not the other way around. The marketing machines capitalize on the worst of our attitudes at Christmas and serve to inflate our naturally materialistic tendencies. Within the Christian Church we have been trying to celebrate Christmas the same way the rest of the world celebrates 'The Holidays'. It is confusing.
The vast majority of Westerners, (those of us residing in the oh so very advanced North America) will dive into debt through this season. Honestly this is just a ridiculous testament to our culture and I'm not going to address it beyond the fact that it contributes to having the opposite affect of what is promised in the adverts. Buyers remorse, anxiety, and the February blahs are dangling on strings from your credit card.
It is entirely possible to have a wonderful nostalgic Christmas with family, friends, food and gifts and yet bring honour and glory to God throughout the season. The only way this can ever happen is if we are diligent about seeking Christ in everything this Christmas (as we should in all things). Abandon humanism, defy commercialism, reject materialism, dismiss the distractions and celebrate the sacrifice of Christ by talking to someone about a changed life in Jesus Christ. (what a gift!)
It is often overlooked that the suffering of Christ began when he came to this defiled planet as a baby. He left the perfection of heaven and arrived to the plight of a human body. If you think about the birth of Christ as a suffering sacrifice, it will give you a new perspective of Christmas (as you open your new iPod touch on Christmas morning).
I'm not a humbug. I love Christmas. But think.
It has not been my intention, with this article, to suggest that you do or do not have a Christmas Tree, or a Santa Claus, or exchange gifts. I simply want to express the importance of examining closely our hearts in Christmas and allow ourselves to enjoy Christmas in Christ.
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