Xmas: An Alternative View
Ah, Christmas. The time of the year when the disgusting commercialism that is modern Western culture almost outpaces the number of supercilious complaints about aforesaid commercialism. Shoppers constantly are bombarded with ridiculously self-conscious schmaltzy music about what Christmas really means, juxtaposed with the increasingly base methods used to acquire Christmas presents. A huge to-do is made about the entire affair, and the amount of materialism that Christmas involves is appalling and breathtaking at the same time. All this, combined with S.A.D., other holidays, and social commentary galore make December perhaps the most introspective month of the year. Opinions abound, but real thought is rare. It’s easy to sneer at the spectacle, ignore it altogether, or go for some kind of ill-thought out attempt to put “Christ back in Christmas” or remind everyone that “Jesus is the reason for the season”. However, it would be best for a hybrid celebration of the sacred and the secular to be the real focal point of the month.
Yes, commercialism is bad. I think that’s fairly obvious to everyone. Nobody wants to define their Christmas by the number and quality of gifts received or given. Doing so is crass and disgusting. Therefore, a need to justify the amount of time and money spent is probably the biggest reason for the attempts at soul-searching that occur this time of year.
Giving gifts is good. It forces us to act selflessly at least on some level, however superficial. We must think about other people, and spend money on them. That is good. We get to experience some of the joy they will feel when they get their gifts. That is good. We participate in an age-old tradition that connects us with our cultural heritage. That is good. When it derails is when the material aspects of Christmas begin to out-weigh all others. But this is simply symptomatic of a society that employs really bad teleology. The end of Christmas is not the gifts, it is something else. If you cannot imagine a good Christmas without material possessions, your heart is in the wrong place. Gifts enhance, and are wonderful symbols, but they shouldn’t be central.
Some people try to defuse the materialistic tendencies by trying to make Christmas mostly about Christ. They try to claim a historical precedent, somehow claiming that the season was created to celebrate Christ’s birth. Yes, it is called Christmas. But it wasn’t always. Many pre-Christ cultures celebrated the winter solstice at the same time that Christmas is now celebrated. It wasn’t as if Christians decided one day to commemorate Christ’s birth on December 25th; the date of his birth is actually unknown. This time of year has been a time of celebration for millennia, and all the early Christians did was simply add this celebration to the season.
These historical facts are what is really annoying about all the calls to “Put Christ back in Christmas” or to remember that “Jesus is the reason for the season”. Christ was never the sole focal point of the season, and to claim this is to appear ignorant. A lot of Christmas traditions have absolutely nothing to do with Christ and never will. The understanding of a lot of the Western Church, though, is that society got lost in the weeds somewhere and forgot why Christmas is celebrated. Christians are supposed to feel a sense of dismay that what was once a “Christian” culture is now sacrificing itself on the altars of materialism and/or paganism.
Some Christians decide that it is best not to celebrate the holiday at all. They dourly remind everyone they meet that the season is pagan, and that we aren’t told in the Bible to celebrate it. This behavior is stupid and harmful. First, why is it wrong to celebrate when the culture is celebrating, even if it isn’t solely about Christ? Is the Church really coming under persecution because of the increasing awareness that the season isn’t completely about Christ? Why is it beneficial to cut ourselves off from a witnessing opportunity that only adds more joy to the occasion in that it fulfills what the rest of the culture is celebrating?
The Incarnation is clearly worth celebrating. It is one of the most important events in human history. Many biblical prophecies were fulfilled, and the hope of mankind was made possible by it. No other religion discusses an event like it. There is sublime joy and happiness that comes from it. Even if none of the rest of the Gospel had happened, this one event would still be monumental. Please don’t interpret anything above as meant to take away from this fact. Celebrate the birth of Christ.
However, the rest of the culture is also celebrating things that matter. Selflessness, goodwill, love, and peace are the higher things to which all mankind is called to live by. This is the one time of year that Western Civilization takes to celebrate these virtues. In these ideas we have what separates humanity from other animals. What could possibly be wrong with feasting and merriment based on these concepts? The season is full to the brim with traditions that bring family and friends together, and make us acknowledge causes above the mundane and dull. Virtue matters, and we as Christians should be the very last people on the planet to stand in the way of its celebration.
There is no reason that the two cannot be celebrated together. They belong together. Christ is the embodiment (see what I did there?) of good. He fulfills virtue completely. While the world celebrates good things, diminished by the Fall, Christians celebrate perfection. Both are good. Both are worth setting aside time to remember. If, for some reason, you find it impossible to celebrate the Incarnation along with human goods, celebrate Christ’s birth at some other time of year. But don’t neglect the one time of year the West attempts to feast in the name of the good. Christmas is, after all, the celebration of the sacredness of the secular.