In a rare moment of channel surfing on Christmas day I ran across several religious services, teachings talking about the holidays; pictures of Mass, pastors reminding their church audiences that Jesus was the reason for the season. I was struck by one however who asked the question what was Christmas all about then went on throughout his 28 minute program to relate historical fact that Jesus was not actually born on December 25, or that the early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus’ birthday, making reference to a book called the 4,000 years of Christmas, pointing out the time since Jesus only encompassed 2,000 years. Going on to say that many of our current traditions have left out the key player in the season, Jesus himself, the host telling a story about his being 7 years old when his parents came to him saying they were not celebrating Christmas as they had discovered the truths he sought to impart on the Christmas airing of his show. What does our Christian teacher suggest we replace Christmas with; he recommends we, Christians, believers in Christ put him back into the season by celebrating truly Holy days such as Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, observances directly related to Christ’s ministry, his role as messiah, also meant as times of community, fellowship, togetherness. However is Jesus more interested in when we celebrate a day to honor his birth and what it meant to the world, or is he interested in, looking for those who will keep the spirit of his birthday, what it signifies? From all we read of Jesus in the bible something says the latter.
But aside from the awkwardness of family reactions to swearing off Christmas as a pagan holiday, explaining to non-believers how you can be a Christian and not celebrate Christmas, leaving them confused and dumfounded by an impromptu history lesson, there can be real consequences to throwing all your Christmas traditions away. Firstly the discrepancy in Christ’s birthday could be based on a difference in calendars; for example Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year is in September. Add in 2,000 years of history, modernization and who really knows what calendar we’re using as opposed to the one used in the time of Jesus. Secondly it’s more than setting your kids up for ridicule when they’re not just the only kid who didn’t get anything from Santa, anything from their parents for Christmas, but that only intensifies when they don’t celebrate any holiday during the season, because those who celebrate other festivities like Hanukah, Kwanza can say no we don’t celebrate Christmas we instead do this. Mostly peaking the interest of your children’s friends. On the subject of children and Christmas, removing Santa or even just presents from parents, family on the grounds that’s not what the holiday is about or we’re not giving into commercial greed may turn your children off to the idea of God, Christianity as you present it; they may say if believing in God, Jesus means I can’t enjoy Santa and presents what do I want with him? These people could, and likely will, grow up saying if I can’t give that magic to my kids, forget God. This sort of phenomenon is seen in strict religious communities; a young man raised a Jehovah’s Witness who later became a born again Christian, talked about growing up in a home not allowed to watch television, listen to secular music on religious grounds, not able to celebrate his birthday and what that did to his perceptions of God. Perhaps equally important is the concept that there is no reason you can’t have both Jesus and Santa in your Christmas traditions focusing primarily on the former and have Santa, presents and material things be secondary.
Next Christians denouncing Christmas lose a built in, natural chance to both share the gospel and effect their world; they lose a yearly chance to remind people about Jesus and demonstrate examples of his love to the rest of the world during the season when people are most looking for it and arguably most receptive. In the backlash against gift giving we have forgotten how powerful giving a gift can be to someone who is alone, has no family, who has been through a recent tragedy or is consistently forgotten at this time of year. You lose that natural catalyst to get people to think outside of themselves, think about those less fortunate, think about things they can do to make their corner of the world a little better. Jan Crouch wife of famed, sometimes controversial Christian TV stations owner Paul Crouch, whose all Christian TV network spans the globe, gives toys to children in destitute places like Haiti with the message of the gospel attached. They also light their Christmas lights at the famed Trinity City on Halloween to counteract a secular holiday focused on spirits and things that can possibly lead to evil. Another evangelical lightning rod of sorts, John Haggee, once giving a Christmas related sermon was quick to point out there was nothing wrong with having a Christmas tree, that the example he spoke of were a group of people actually worshiping the tree itself. Other pastors are quick to assure parents they are not waging war on Santa only that he is not the sole reason we celebrate the season; Christ and Christ’s gift is so much more profound, so much better.
Maybe the better message is how to simplify your Christmas, being realistic about the demands on your time, budget, how much you truly have to spend on family vs. others, how long it will take to shop for all those gifts, how much work goes into all those holiday parties. Judging by the video above, nearly everyone can relate to, part of the key is being organized, the condition we put our Christmas lights away in, ability to find our ornaments; consider switching from a real tree to an artificial one, from a full sized tree to a table sized one you can simply place a garbage bag over, take out and plug in next year. Or removing decorations from the full sized variety and storing it covered and intact say in the garage, so all you have to do is uncover and decorate, not fight to get it back in its box at the end of the season, not spending hours trying to remember how to put it together, making it look like a tree, when Christmas rolls around again. Rethinking doing Christmas cards for the whole neighborhood, gifts for your whole office or your spouse’s. Being sure to weed out those persons who you’ve sent a card to 3 years in a row and get nothing back, and if like the song says, you’re looking at your Christmas card list not knowing half the people, stop sending them cards. Perhaps you refuse to serve alcohol at your gatherings or abstain from indulging. Avoid dragging your small children on holiday shopping trips can curb at least your screaming child, being inundated with I want requests. Deciding which charities you want to be involved with and ignoring all others is one strategy, screening your calls. Solving the parking and battery not included headache may involve getting to stores earlier, taking a bus or asking a friend to drop you off or organizing a sort of Christmas carpool along the same principle. Today people assume electronics outside of smart phones, i-pads, such as kids’ toys, don’t come with batteries and plan accordingly, but don’t forget to search your junk drawer; you may find what you need without buying more. For the Christmas fanatics looking to get a jump on the holiday rush, or just as a rule of thumb start your Christmas shopping, festivity preparation early; die hard’s start purchasing gifts in September. A goal for others may be to not be scouring stores on Christmas Eve or to begin shopping a week earlier
On that note, Americans seem to be desperately in need of gift giving tutorials, crash courses in gift giving etiquette to avoid feeling obligated to buy things for people they barely know, theirs or their spouses entire office, feeling like they have to one up what they did last year or someone in the office, in the neighborhood or family who always gives lavish gifts to even the most seemingly insignificant people. Start instilling priorities children young to make sure their expectations are reasonable, in line with what you can afford, and in line with your value system, keeping them aware of changes in circumstances while always reinforcing the real reason for at least your family’s celebration. Too often what happens is we spend the other 364 days a year treating people badly, ignoring them then try to make up for it with expensive Christmas gifts. Similarly working parents feel guilty about not spending time with their kids the rest of the year then try to buy their love at the holidays. If the video below looks at all familiar as something that happens around your house, in terms of the gifts having nothing to do with your interests, desires or tastes, if you’ve ever gotten a completely off the wall and unwanted present for this or any other occasion, and let’s face it who hasn’t, then you understand how desperately people need to be taught how to buy the right gift for the right person, no matter how little or how much you spend. That starts with knowing the person you are buying for knowing a minimum of a few likes and dislikes, what’s going to communicate love, care and I’m thinking about you to that person. For some it may be a homemade, handmade gift it obviously took time to create, for others it’s clear knowledge of something they like or enjoy, an item you noticed they liked but perhaps couldn’t afford at the time, an item that they can have as a keepsake, reminder of you, an item that supports a rare part of their personality, an ambition they shared with you. And it doesn’t have to be expensive; I learned this when I bought my friend a high school graduation present that happened to be under $10. However I bought it because I knew it was representative of them; I knew I’d hit the mark when she looked across a busy room holding it up saying how did you know? I knew for being her friend, paying attention. Openly asking never hurts either along with a price range so a person doesn’t rattle off things entirely over your budget or expect them.
Follow the link to a Youtube posting of Jeff Foxworthy’s famed 12 days of Christmas
No matter which holidays or Holy days you choose to observe you are still going to run into some of the same problems had during so called secular, pagan holidays when it’s also supposed to center around family and you have to deal with difficult in-laws, cousins or other relatives, when people refuse to show up at the celebration, you are alone and have no one to celebrate alongside, while it seems everyone else does have at least one person to commemorate the occasion with. These are the things that make holidays stressful, depressing, engender feelings of loneliness, even spark suicides. Keep in mind most, if not all, the Christmas replacement Holy days mentioned were feasts, so hosting a Passover dinner at your house could generate the same stresses when people don’t appear as expected or promised, someone shows up drunk or otherwise causes a scene. You’re hurt or embarrassed by comments made about you, your children, the condition of your home or the food. Another point of contention, who hosts said celebrations and whether or not someone feels they are saddled with more than their fair share of the work, someone who is always stuck hosting the event, someone who feels cheated because they are never trusted with hosting it; this sound familiar, the person who forgets to bring a dish, volunteers to bring accessories like napkins, plates, forks and doesn’t, particular family members could be upset because person X bought what they brought rather than cooking it themselves. Issues that hold true whether you’re participating in Christmas, Hanukah, a Passover dinner or organizing an annual family reunion. Why, because the hang ups described are common to family, relationships, human interactions not just Christmas. An added point to the silliness of swearing off the holiday for anything other than your own person preference not to engage in the holiday drama, rather than as some kind of new homage to God.
The Christmas spirit doesn’t last beyond the day many times because people are people; what they were willing to put aside for one day, isn’t tenable the other 364 days a year. Because the day after Christmas the in-laws are driving you crazy, and the kids you could keep from fighting with family activities and presents yesterday are back to fighting with each other like they do every other day of the year, the dishes still have to be washed, the dog has to be fed and someone has to clean up the mess generated by the holiday. You may have guests in from out of town, out of state staying until the New Year who need meals, entertainment at a juncture when you are already exhausted. It would be irresponsible not to return, exchange or give away items that you got 2 of, things that don’t fit, materials you will not use or have no need for meaning out you go into the fray of shoppers and crazies, bad drivers and bad whether headed for the mall or local goodwill. Outside of that the Christmas spirit, the urge to do good, be kind to our fellow man all year round can come from personal experience, a time when we were down and others helped us, but most of all it comes from him, having Jesus Christ in our lives. This seems to be the key missing from so many celebrations, people who have never had any experience with God, never invited them into their heart, not whether Christ was ever a part of the season in the first place. Fixing that is about spreading the gospel in a meaningful way, causing people to come into the Christian fold, not removing Christmas from the Christian life.