The concept is bizarre when you stop and think about it. Let’s take a couple of days off of work at one of the busiest times of the year. We’ll time our school calendars so that the semester break occurs during the holiday. For the month preceding the holiday, houses and storefronts will be decorated with fir trees, snowflakes, wreaths, lights, snowmen, reindeer, and a man in a red suit. We’ll write songs about it and play them incessantly for the month or so preceding the holiday. We’ll make movies and have TV shows incorporate the theme into their story lines. It will be the most festive time of the year. No other celebration throughout the year will last as long as this or be as widely participated in as this. And it will all culminate around…well, all of the things I just described. The celebration will more or less celebrate the festivities themselves.
Christmas culminates in Christmas Eve night and Christmas morning. Santa Claus is said to deliver presents to all of the children of the world on Christmas Eve. In the morning, children wake up to open these presents waiting for them under the Christmas tree. This seems to be the apex of the holiday. So tell me, do we really spend one month every year celebrating the arrival of presents from an overweight old man in a red suit who’s said to fly around the world via the aid of nine magical reindeer? Does the biggest holiday season on the American calendar center around a fictional character? How does this make any sense? Why haven’t employers demanded their employees show up to work on December 24th and 25th?
Can we honestly claim that on a cultural level Christmas is about the incarnation of the Son of God? How does Santa Claus or Frosty the Snowman fit into that? What have “Winter Wonderland” or “White Christmas” to do with the birth of Christ? In a country that is clearly post-Christian, where nativity scenes on public property have been deemed offensive, why in the world do we still celebrate Christmas? The only discernible answer is that the festivities we’ve created around the holiday are so darned fun. Your boss may have you work on Veterans’ Day or President’s Day, but if he tried to get you to come in on a day you would otherwise spend telling your kids the gifts you gave them really came from an old man who travels faster than the speed of light and/or can stop time, and alternating between watching basketball and “It’s a Wonderful Life” on television, you’d throw a fit.
I may be a bit cynical, but it seems to me that it’s simply ridiculous that we celebrate Christmas as a nation while barely giving a nod to the Person the holiday was originally intended to honor. Don’t miss the irony when the pop star from last month’s scantily clad magazine shoot delivers a pitch-perfect version of “O Holy Night,” singing, “long lay the world in sin and error pining till He appeared and the soul felt its worth…Fall on your knees.” Some of the most profound and impactful truths will appear on the albums of some of the most recognizable stars, but their meaning will be all but lost on them and most of their audience.
The Christian traditions this country still celebrates become more and more illogical as time goes on. We continue to sing “God Bless America” at baseball games, but if the performer dared to explain to the crowd who the God that the song refers to is, they’d be cut off in a matter of seconds. As a nation we still cling to vestiges of Christianity for nostalgia’s sake. Logic and critical thought be damned.
It’s not surprising that a secular society cares not for the religious significance of a holiday that has long been celebrated. The world we live in may not make sense, but we can’t ignore it. Christmas may have little significance to many of our neighbors, co-workers, and friends, but the day is still reserved on the calendar. Many will still be exposed to the account of Christ’s birth from Luke 2. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” will still be heard on the radio. And even if most miss their signficance, some won’t. Some will ask questions, some will seek to understand the importance of the birth of Jesus. For those of us who still celebrate Christ at Christmas, let’s be ready with an answer.