The Christmas season has officially come and gone and if you are like me you likely spent much time eating, shopping, giving or receiving, visiting, singing and worshipping. You were also likely subject to others bemoaning the loss of Christmas meaning.
The ruin of Christmas due to consumerism and the secularization of the holiday is a yearly topic for Christians who worry about the biblical story being buried under heaps of presents and Santa costumes. “Jesus is the reason for the season” is phrase that is commonly heard. Lately I have also heard people lamenting the use of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
I understand some of these sentiments but the more I see of what happens around Christmas the more I am convinced that Jesus would want nothing to do with much of it.
For many, Christmas is a reason to give each other gifts and spend time together. Yet, for Christians it remains much more. That act of gift giving and communing together remains part of our celebration but they are not the centre. Celebrating Christ is the centre.
When I give my brother in law the newest season of The Office I am not doing so in celebration of Christ’s birth. I am doing so because at this time of the year we gather as family and friends to give gifts and eat together. For Christians the Christmas season has taken on an interesting double standard where we celebrate the birth of a man who would one day preach blessed are the poor, and then we indulge in food and presents. I do not have a problem with gift giving and communing together and in fact there can be found biblical ties to both acts, but I want to be wary of equating those deeds with celebrating God's son.
Perhaps for Christians, Christmas should be thought of as a dual holiday. One holiday where we sing about a big man in a red suit, give gifts and eat turkey and fudge, and another where we humbly remember the sacrifice God made in sending his son to earth, and rejoice for the salvation that God gave us through him.
With a dual celebration in mind the fear of Christmas secularization becomes less profound. If we stop equating Santa with the Christmas story then we stop worrying about people missing the meaning of the season. Jesus’ birth will remain free of the taint of iPhones and coffee makers because they are celebrating two different holidays.
Personally Christmas has always made me feel a bit guilty in the past. I criticized the consumerist society that was burying the true meaning of Christmas, and yet I was buying into their plan with gifts for everyone close to me. Who was I to criticize - was I any different than the next person?
Recognizing the duality of Christmas has done something to ease my guilt. I am free to celebrate the birth of Jesus and I am also free to celebrate with my family by eating together, laughing, and giving gifts that I have lovingly picked out or made for them.
The reality of this dual holiday idea is that the two holidays will most certainly have overlap. In fact I expect to hear some criticism about how these two aspects of Christmas cannot be considered mutually exclusive. However, I believe that if we can begin to see the different layers of the Christmas holidays then we can stop fretting over the loss of Christmas meaning. In fact we might even bring ourselves to say 'Happy Holidays.”
So Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!
Having written this I am still struggling to decide whether this duality idea actually makes sense or whether it is an elaborate plan to ease my guilt over too much Christmas spending.