Something magical happens as the month moves from November into December. The air gets a little cooler, and there is a distinct smell of Christmas. I savor the smell of Christmas trees and burning logs in the fireplace, making a cold night cozy and enjoyable. I could sing carols all year long, and my heart smiles as the radio plays songs of a quiet town and a bright star. I take delight in the squeals of my children as we pass a house covered in bright, colored lights, even though I prefer a more simply decorated home of white candles and wreaths. I love this time of year and the beauty that it brings.
And while I love all the joys of the season, every year I find an internal battle erupt within me as the talk of Christmas begins. When I became an adult, little things about Christmas here and there began to bother me, but it wasn’t until I had children that a full conflict ensued.
My first priority was to ensure that my children understood why we had Christmas, that Christmas is ultimately about the gift of salvation God sent to humanity through a tiny baby, yet I couldn’t reconcile the way we celebrated Christmas with its actual meaning. Even after my husband and I took specific measures to ensure Christ was a part of our family’s Christmas, the explanations I gave to my children didn’t make sense, even to me.
I remember confiding in our Bible study when my first child was nearing two my uncertainty of how to introduce Santa Claus into Christmas without making him the hero, pushing Christ aside. One woman suggested if I told my children the story of St. Nicholas, I wouldn’t have a problem. So I read up on St. Nicholas, trying to fill in the gaps of my understanding, and I explained Christmas to my kids: “St. Nicholas loved Jesus so much that he brought gifts to children whose families didn’t have enough money for the things they needed…and we remember St. Nicholas by having Santa Claus bring you presents even though your family is not poor.“
We did our best to keep the gifts at Christmastime from becoming excessive, so we gave each child three gifts: “When Jesus was born, He received three gifts from the Three Wise Men…and even though it’s not your birthday, we thought you should get presents because clearly the gift of Jesus is not enough.” Every year I struggle as I try to connect the true meaning of the holiday with how we celebrate. But the fact of the matter is that I struggle because the connection is weak.
Let me be clear–I’m not opposed to presents, I’m not opposed to spending time with loved ones, and I’m certainly not opposed to the good cheer and good deeds that traditionally accompany Christmastime. However, I’m not sure that how we celebrate this holy day is, in fact, holy, or resembles anything that would make Jesus proud, and if we’re going to have a holiday with His name on it, the day should resemble Him and His values.
How could He take delight in a holiday that we made, supposedly in His honor, that causes the family who can barely meet its bills added stress over not being able to give its kids a ‘good’ Christmas? Why would he rejoice in the amount of money being spent, possibly debt being created, in order to give our loved ones things that really have nothing to do with the love of Christ? While my family sits around a tree, ripping into gifts that we don’t need, another family around the globe goes without water and the basic necessities we take for granted. When Jesus was on earth He lived humbly and modestly, showing compassion and mercy to those around Him. How could He then find glory and honor in a day devoted to exalting ourselves, our materialism, even good things like our families–but not Him?
Christ did not come to make us comfortable. Christ did not come so we could enjoy large family gatherings. He came to seek and save the lost. He came as a baby to one day lay down His life as a sacrifice, and those of us who believe are called to serve as His ambassadors. Yet the day we set aside to remember His gift seems to gloss over the call that was put upon us.
I remember when I was younger having Jewish and Hindu friends who celebrated Christmas. I didn’t understand how they could celebrate a day that held such important religious significance to the Christian community, how they could simply remove ‘Christ’ out of ‘Christmas’ and continue on with the holiday. Yet, as I look at how most Christians celebrate Christmas, I can honestly say there isn’t much of a difference. Perhaps some of us go to church, but only if our church offers a Christmas Eve service, and only if the time won’t interfere with our family’s plans. We may read from the Gospel of Luke or sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus, but the rest of the day looks remarkably similar.
As Christians, we get frustrated when franchises instruct their employees to say, ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas,’ and we lament the disputes over where we can and cannot display our nativity scenes. We desperately want to keep Christ in Christmas, yet, perhaps, we never really invited Him in.
But what if this year we changed Christmas? What if this year we really did make it about Him? What if instead of making a Christmas budget for all the gifts we had to buy with a portion set aside for the good deeds we wanted to do, we instead made a budget for all the good deeds we wanted to do with a small portion set aside for gifts? What if we enjoyed a quiet night, a holy night singing carols around the tree reflecting on our Savior who came with nothing so that we could have everything, and we let that realization be enough?
What if Christmas were known around the world as the time of year when Christians took care of all of God’s children? Not just filling up a shoebox or making a donation to a charity but sacrificially giving up our own gifts in the hope that others might encounter the one True Gift. What if the month of December were marked by Christians giving food and building wells as a means to show the world the Bread of Life who promises that we will never grow hungry or thirst?
Frankly, the thought is a little scary. Who wants to mess with Christmas? But perhaps it’s time. I can spend years trying to make the connection for my children between their meaningless gifts and Jesus, or I can rethink Christmas and give it real meaning.
I want to invite Him in. I want to remove the hustle and bustle of the holidays to focus on the little babe in the manger. I want to push past the mound of presents that I don’t need to remember the only true treasure that I couldn’t buy. I want my gifts to others to point the way to a loving Father, and I want them to know the gift that He has given me. I want His gift to be enough. And I want Jesus to smile and say, “Yes, I’ll put my name on this holiday,” because the day was truly His.
Added December 1, 2010: I just discovered a whole website devoted to changing Christmas this year by turning our hearts towards those in need. Check out ChristmasChange for more blogs on this topic.