I love the Christmas Season with a fanatical zest that sometimes borders on the ridiculous. My house is currently decked out with more lights than Santa’s Workshop. (I must confess, however, that my devotion is counter-acted with my loathing of cold weather and since Jim is not the most festive enthusiast of the holiday season, our decorations are limited to the interior of our house, i.e. the limits of our furnace’s reach.) I wish I could say that my celebration of Jesus’ birth is restricted to “the reason for the season” but I will be frank and say that while I love the solemnity surrounding the birth of the Savior, I embrace many of the secular trappings as well. I suppose it is a bit like planning a child’s birthday party. While there is no denying that the party is for the guest of honor, the event becomes bigger than that. I certainly don’t think Jesus minds sharing the limelight, as long as everyone remembers who the birthday Boy is. A party is still a party, right and I haven’t seen too many five-year-olds complain “Everyone is having too much fun and should really be paying more attention to me!” He is typically in the midst of the all the chaotic frivolity and enjoying himself too much to notice he isn’t the center of attention. If a five-year-old is able to grasp this concept, then, I am fairly confident, so can the Son of God. Then why is it that people get so uptight about “The Reason for the Season”?
Now I am certainly not advising believers to run out and embrace the rabid materialism that is represented by old Saint Nick and his minions, but nor do I believe in hum-bugging your way through the season and calling it religious purity. While I am often annoyed by the myriad Hallmarkish movies out there that define Christmas as “a season to bring families together” or “a time for love,” my annoyance isn’t really that these themes of family and love outshine the celebration of Jesus’ arrival on the planet but rather that they are given outside of the significance of that arrival. Going back to the birthday party analogy, there is nothing wrong with kids having fun at a party. In fact, that’s part of the point. I seriously doubt any child would feel honored by a gathering of his friends in which everyone solemnly sat around just staring at him and saying “It’s your birthday.” In the same way, however, there comes a time in the party where everyone does come together to sing “Happy Birthday” and acknowledge the reason for being there.
A few years back, there was a big to-do regarding whether to say “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” or just try to avoid speaking at all during the month of December lest we offend anyone. I do find it frustrating that despite the fact that most Americans observe Christmas in some fashion, the minority often wins cultural battles over faith in the public square. So I went about dispensing holiday cheer with an almost combative zeal. I could almost see in someone’s reaction to my “Merry Christmas” whether we were on the same “team.” And that was when the uneasy realization settled in that just as Christmas is not about how many gifts are under the tree or a puritanical refusal to have fun, it is also not about beating people over the head with baby Jesus. When my attitude changed from winning to sharing my joy with others, I was surprised to see the change in people’s response, whether they were on my team or not. Jesus can kick Santa’s butt, and I am pretty sure He can handle the Scrooges of this world as well.
really appreciated your thoughts here! emily and i have found the merry christmas/happy holidays thing interesting in boston. in the midwest i definitely wouldn’t think twice about saying merry christmas, and assumed anyone who didn’t like it or said happy holidays was a turd, an atheist, or both (i’m exaggerating but you get the idea). at class and work now we have a lot more interaction with those that don’t celebrate christmas, mostly jewish people, and so it has definitely altered our perspective a bit. while i don’t feel like i have to hide my celebration of christ’s birth, i do think a little cultural sensitivity can go a long way. if only the scrooges of the world could show a little grace in this area too!
Somebody special has a birthday today, hmmmm… happy birthday!!!