Monday, December 8, 2008

The true meaning of Christmas?

I am entertained by all of the controversy that comes up around this time of year. People sure get all fired up about Christmas. They go on and on, talking about the TRUE meaning of Christmas. What does Christmas really mean? Has it been hijacked by consumerism? By humanism? By worldliness?

So what is it about, really? Is it about giving? Peace on earth? Baby Jesus' "birthday"? Tradition? Saint Nicholas? Charitable acts? God's great love for humanity? Prophecy fulfilled? Joy? Hope?

History always gives perspective. Winter celebrations started out as pagan. Early Christians didn't celebrate a Christmas holiday. In the fourth century, church officials created a holiday (Feast of the Nativity) to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They intentionally picked the date for the holiday to coincide with pagan winter celebrations to ensure acceptability. By blending it with the pagan holiday, they allowed the influences and traditions of the pagan celebrations to become very much intertwined with the Christian holiday. By the middle ages, the Christian Christmas had pretty much replaced the pagan holidays, but was celebrated with very worldly practices including partying and drunkenness after mass. It actually resembled Halloween, with the less fortunate going from door to door for charity while threatening terroristic mischief if goodwill wasn't bestowed.

The Puritans and our beloved Pilgrims knew that Christmas was a worldly holiday that had been hijacked by "Christians", not the other way around. So, they didn't celebrate it at all. Of course there are some churches today that feel the same way about it and don't celebrate the holiday.

I guess I'm not a very good Puritan. I love to study their beliefs and customs. I even like their hymns. I'm a wanna-be Purtian, I think. But my house is filled with unnecessary things, I eat more than my body truly needs, and my asceticism (extreme self-denial just for spiritual purposes) abilities are just not what they could be. I also can't help myself but celebrate Christmas.

We regular, church going folk in our time in history, here in America, try to keep Christmas focused on the birth of Christ. We try. We do nativity scenes, go through Advent, have extra church services, etc. And some, but not all, include some of the worldly traditions and give them spiritual sounding names to make them into religious ones. You know, like consumerism called "the gift of giving" and Christmas trees have upward pointing branches that represent praise to god.

I'll just admit that I can't resist the recent traditions of the last few generations of Americans. I grew up playing Mary in the Sunday school pageant. I watched as the Advent candles were lit. I teared up at every candlelight service on Christmas Eve when the lights were lowered as we sang Silent Night. I overindulged on Grandma's fudge and bird's nest cookies. I loved seeing big piles of presents to be unwrapped. I looked for Rudolf's nose light in the sky on Christmas Eve. I sat on Santa's lap. I've seen every Christmas Coca-Cola commercial.

What is Christmas for? To me, Christmas is a chance to remember the redemption that comes through Jesus being sent by Our Father to this earth. My world isn't rocked if it means worldly things to the world. What else would we expect from the world? Along with the deep meaning that I ponder at this time of year, I also have a little fun with the holiday. I try to create a little magical fun for the kids. I overspend and overeat. Yes I do. I sing Frosty the Snowman AND Oh, Holy Night. Like I said, I'm not a very good Puritan. If I was, I would have a right to complain about what the world is doing with Christmas. But since I'm not, I'll let the world do with the holiday whatever they wish. It was theirs in the first place. We'll just enjoy our family's version of Christmas: the birth of our Redeemer. You may also catch us peering out the window on December 24th looking for Rudolf's nose while we stuff in one last piece of Grandma's fudge.

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