An evaluation of an especially eccentric time of year.
Regardless of how or why you observe December 25th, this was written for you. While I do speak more pointedly to those that celebrate this day as a commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, I gladly extend my thoughts to those that do not. What follows are some of the feelings and convictions I’ve had throughout these last 11 months in regards to the Christmas/winter/holiday season.
First, I feel we must address the entire “season” as a whole. Why do we spread the celebration out over an entire month, when Christ’s birth took place over a much shorter period of time? While the commemoration of something so foundational to Christian belief systems could be expected to extend beyond one day, how did society arrive at a month-long celebration? Not only that, but why then is it limited to one month? Shouldn’t the gratitude and jubilation shown during December echo into the rest of the year? Incidentally, Jesus is not “the reason for the season” because the time frame in this overused phrase typically does not refer to His birth, but rather the entire celebration period throughout December. He is the reason we celebrate that day, not why we limit our thanks to one materialistic month and move on.
Let’s examine the way Christmas is celebrated in modern America. Most institutions plan some kind of celebration, though many match more closely with Saturnalia than Christmas. In fact, aside from fellowship with those around us, we generally don’t sound like we’re celebrating a birthday at all. At times we even remove the name of Christ from His own holiday.
The strange behavior doesn’t end there. Coworkers exchange smiles for the first time, lovers halt their quarrels and enjoy a peaceful meal, and still others find themselves in their annual church service or sitting through endless television specials. How can one day cause us to act so differently? Since we only think and feel “festive” once a year, we are essentially creating our own abnormal reality. It’s no wonder we feel so empty afterward.
It’s not hard to find evidence to support this theory. Our society moves at breakneck speed on a slow day, but during the winter months it moves at a pace beyond reason. It continually proves it’s own weakness by beginning earlier and louder than the year before. Doesn’t anyone see that the reason it starts early is to draw more people in? Why must retailers, radio stations, and relatives go to such lengths to excite us? Are we so desensitized to genuine expressions of love that we have to be ensnared by new marketing schemes each year?
Maybe we should consider why we do things more carefully before we do them, take a moment and really look deep to see what our true motives are. I believe stress is an incredible distortion of the feelings we should be experiencing on Christmas, and even more so a great distraction from the values and mindsets that should be our main focus. From family newsletters to holiday portraits and baked goods to block parties, we see an incredible pressure to be properly presented masking the intent and heart behind the expression. It so easily becomes a show, something of a performance by which to compare one to another; ironically it happens most during a time that originated with the lowering of something far greater than us.
What do you suppose the very first Christmas was like? How many of the amenities and comfort zones existed, were all the little details taken care of, and what were the key elements that warranted celebration? There were no gifts given to the newborn Savior, those present were a handful of humble shepherds and His family. What happened that first night clearly painted a picture for how we are to view the essential pieces of Christmas. Togetherness, thankfulness, trust, and humility were the true reason for their celebration. Why can we not imitate this today, and for what reason must we dress everything up?
Next in line is everyone’s favorite subject: presents! This is unavoidable in a Christmas discussion, though I’m not going to suggest halting any exchange of gifts as some would. On the contrary, it’s not wrong to have tradition or give gifts, just please stop doing it in the name of Jesus! Confused? Read on.
Why do we feel the need to give gifts to one another on Christmas? There are many ways this could have started, though most churches will give you one of several popular reasons why it occurs: imitation of the arrival of “wise men” bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh; or because God gave us His ultimate gift and we reciprocate out of appreciation. Neither of these are bad reasons for giving something to someone, though both are flawed in execution. The first doesn’t work because the magi didn’t arrive until nearly two years after the birth of Christ, so it wouldn’t make sense for us to exchange items at the time of His arrival. The second reason comes up short because we’re still using physical items to depict an immaterial gift, and that’s a dangerous line to walk.
By the way, it’s important to note that things, stuff, items, and gifts cannot be bad in themselves. Nonliving material has no ability to be right or wrong, neither can it be good or evil. Therefore the only way anything stands for what it should not is through misuse on our part. There are many ways we can do this, both by being selfish with the items themselves or pursuing them beyond responsible means. Debt is one of the key players in the holiday season; the stores are banking on the fact that you can’t pay for what you want to buy, and many shoppers plan to exceed their limitations due to the importance placed on the acquisition of stuff. Really, how can we do more injustice to a day of giving than by acting this way?
Regardless of the value or intention of material possessions, they will always be limited to just that: physical items. Representations of emotions or feelings, “showing how much we care” as some ads might profess. Is our mindset truly to bless the recipient, or to fulfill a duty set on us by tradition? Since the items themselves cannot express anything, why must we use them to mimic Christ’s love when He was so much more? I think if one were to imitate such a profound gift, they would want to use something that would last longer than any material item. Why is so much emphasis put on things that will rust away, is that really all there is supporting our convictions?
Please understand, I am in no way attempting to downplay the importance of gift giving or using physical objects to express our genuineness in gratitude. One of my favorite things to do is give things to people, though I still feel that intangible gifts go further than tangible ones. It is with that heart I propose we not eliminate the material, but we instead raise the value of the immaterial.
Consider alternate methods of expression for blessing someone you care for. Instead of purchasing gifts for each person, if you do buy things why not get something everyone can enjoy? Rather than wonder what you can purchase, how about making something with your own hands? If creativity isn’t your biggest strength, you can always find something to do that will be a blessing to someone. Give of yourself instead of your pocketbook; immaterial expressions travel further in life because they don’t rust or decay.
Lastly, we need to consider what we are doing that will bless more than our family members or close friends. I encourage you to spend time with people close to you, but also to be creative in how you can demonstrate that affection to others. Focus on togetherness and being thankful for those around you, looking past the noise and glitter that ostracizes selflessness. One of our most prized possessions is our time; since we all know this to be true, sacrificing your time to better others will say a lot to those around you. (These should be priorities for us every day not just around the “holiday” season, though this time of year tends to bring such attitudes to the forefront so it’s a good time to re-establish those commitments.)
What can you do that will demonstrate a grateful heart for what you’ve been given? We all have things we were blessed with, so what are we going to do in order to bless those around us? How can we honor the original Christmas gift, and what are we giving back to Him this year?