Christmas means a lot of things to a lot of different people, and there’s a whole range between the extremes of “It’s all about Christ,” and “It’s all about sales and crass commercialism.” Actually, there’s a whole lot of meanings that don’t fall anywhere on the line between those two positions.
I could go on, I suppose, about the fact that it’s pretty much impossible that December 25th is the actual birth date of Jesus, or how Christmas is just a Christian appropriation of pagan midwinter celebrations anyway with a modern incarnation defined more by Normal Rockwell and the Coca Cola Company than any religion, but I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard that before. My telling you about it again isn’t going to give anyone any new insight. And if you have somehow failed to hear about those things, there are people better qualified than I to spell out the details who are just a Google search away.
No, the purpose of this post is to talk about the Christmas I celebrate, and why I celebrate it.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was raised in a Christian household. So, of course, I was raised celebrating Christmas. We used to do the whole Christmas Cantata thing, where my brother and I would participate in church productions of the little play telling the Christmas story. We sang all the religious carols. We set up an Advent wreath with the four candles, lighting one more each Sunday leading up to Christmas. We decorated the Christmas tree, and gave each other presents, and had a big Christmas dinner (which, as wonderful as it was, still placed second behind Mom’s Christmas cookies for holiday foodstuffs, as they are the best cookies in the known universe). Christmas from my childhood holds nothing but happy memories for me.
And really, that’s a big part of why I celebrate it: because it reminds me of happy memories. And I would like to share those happy memories with my children and help them form some of their own. Obviously, the religious symbolism (including the symbolism of the huge number of pagan elements contained in the celebration) is pretty much ignored, but the things they symbolize played little to no role in my enjoyment of the holiday to begin with.
Another reason I celebrate Christmas is that I happen to believe that the secular notions that it has come to embody are very good things. Setting aside time to be with your family and loved ones. Demonstrating love through the exchange of gifts (and no, I do not accept the notion that doing so is inherently shallow or commercial). Encouraging acts of generosity towards even total strangers. I think those are good things to do, and to be reminded of.
And finally, I happen to like tradition. That doesn’t mean I think tradition should always be adhered to without examination. But at their best, traditions are things that help to bind families and communities together through shared experience, and Christmas traditions are generally pretty fun and positive. Our family has a tradition of gathering at my parents’ house the first Sunday after Thanksgiving to decorate the Christmas tree. It’s a time we have set aside where everything else gets put away so we can get together in a loving environment and each contribute our efforts to creating something together. I love it.
So this season, we will once again put up our Christmas tree, and hang our lights around the house. And my wife and I will put in some late nights shopping and wrapping up presents in secret. We’ll even hold back a stash to lay under the tree Christmas night after the kids have gone to sleep, even though they know the truth about Santa, because it’s fun and it’s tradition, and it contributes to the whole magical feeling of the holiday. We’ll give to our charities, and we’ll visit our families (and score some of Mom’s Christmas cookies!).
So for those who celebrate it: Merry Christmas! And for those who celebrate other traditions: Happy Holidays! And for those who don’t celebrate anything at all: we love you too and wish you only the best!