Christmas Survives Christmas
It hasn't been all that long ago that every year you could count on Time or Newsweek magazine to have a major article about Jesus in one of their issues prior to Christmas. Usually some renaissance painting of Jesus would be on the front cover. Some article claiming new evidence of the historical Jesus, or suggesting the modernity of Jesus’ teaching. Perhaps there would be some new claim that Jesus was not deity or that he had an heir. The scope of the articles varied, but you could count on them providing some new slant on Christmas, trying to make it more relevant or less consequential.
Those articles seem to have gone out of style, but they have been replaced by a newcomer…the annual pre-Christmas flood of internet postings on how Christmas really got started centuries after Christ and the annual news story about some hither to unheard of organization (with the mission of defending atheist rights or the separation of church and state) launching an effort to limit the traditional nativity scene put up by some civic organization or municipality in some other far away state.
Most of the time, the purpose of these efforts, old and new, is to let me know that Christmas isn’t really what I think it is. Excuse me, but yes it is. It is precisely what I think it is. (I’m reminded of my mental response to the advertising for the Chevrolet Aveo, when it was first being introduced. It’s a small car and their initial marketing campaign included the phrase, “Aveo, it’s bigger than you think.” My mental response was, uh, no it’s not bigger than I think it is.) Christmas is exactly what I think it is. It is what I make of it. The same is true for you.
When I was child, Christmas was what my parents, grandparents, teachers and family friends made of it. For me that meant Christmas was something amazingly wonderful. The one day of the year that was the best day of the year. As an adult, Christmas is what I make of it, along with my family and friends. We don’t need anyone to reinterpret it, because we reinvent it every year. Some parts of it are just like they were forty years ago. Other parts have evolved.
But Christmas is far more than what we physically do with it. It’s the feelings that all those actions produce. It’s the feelings produced from memories of past actions. All the special and favorite foods. Cutting down a tree on my grand parents’ farm. Decorating that tree. Making decorations. Phrases that people would say every year. Lights. Songs. Snow. Toys. Shopping to find just the right gift. Taking pumpkin bread to the neighbors. The cross-stitched picture my wife made of Santa filling stockings.
Experiencing these things and thinking about them on an annual basis makes me feel good. It makes me feel loved and secure. It makes me feel like doing good things for others. It helps me slow my brain down enough to think a bit about resolutions for the new year. It makes me feel like I know what Christmas means. And where all the traditions came from is interesting, but it doesn’t much control how I plan to think about Christmas next year and the year after that.
I feel some pity for public figures in some cities and states who get into situations that cause them to think they must rename parades and other events. “This year we will call it a Holiday parade so that the name won’t be confusing to anyone.” Who’s confused? Who was confused last year when it was called a Christmas parade?
An objective observer would have to look at current trends in culture and predict that at some point the federal holiday on December 25th will get a new name. But is the current name really a vicious threat to the separation of church and state? Is a community’s tradition of putting Christmas decorations on community property really a threat to the future of that community’s level of inclusivity? Christmas causes most people in our country to think about showing more kindness and helping others more. Considering how many people are included in the number of “most people in our country,” that’s quite a bit of good from a notionally religious holiday that’s not commissioned in the Bible.