Ok, someone asked about my thoughts about the celebration of Christmas, especially for Christians. I assume this is in response to my thoughts about Halloween… and I will refer you to the history of Halloween article (http://chrismlegg.com/2010/10/28/my-opinion-on-the-christian-response-to-halloween/) to offer some of the overall history of Christmas as well. I think it is tough to understand the entire discussion without the background.
I know there are groups that are troubled by the celebration of Christmas at all, but I am going to assume that these are more fringe-type groups and so I will not direct my attention there in this article. Much of my thoughts about that will be similar to the thoughts on Halloween. If I’m wrong, correct me on it.
As I understand it, Christmas is primarily celebrated near the Winter Solstice because the actual dates of the birth of Christ were unknown, and it was a good time to create an important Christian celebration (a “Holy Day”… “Holiday”) near the pagan celebrations at the same time. Now there is some evidence that our month of September is the most likely time, but you can read more about those in the longer article.
Certainly there are aspects to our modern traditions that have their roots in the pagan traditions… evergreen trees, holly bushes, maybe even some of the giving of gifts.
Allegedly, for example, one of the legends of Saturnalia and Mithras worship, both of which were celebrated around the Winter Solstice… involved running around in the streets naked and singing. Could this have been the origin of caroling? Or, another theory is that caroling comes from begging at this needy time of the year (cold)… evidence? Think of two common carols: “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, please put a penny in the old man’s hat… if you have got a penny, a hay-penny (half-penny) will do…”
or maybe “We wish you a Merry Christmas… So, bring us some figgie pudding… and bring some right here… we won’t go until we get some…” Even a kind of a “trick or treat” feel to it!
However, as I mentioned in the Halloween opinion article, I don’t think that makes any kind of decision for us. Druids didn’t create evergreen trees, God did; Pagans didn’t invent the giving of gifts, God is the Father who loves to give good gifts. I say that we, as Christians, still embrace the celebration of Christmas!
Now, I do personally believe that the typical American experience at Christmas time tends to be a celebration of alcohol consumption and capitalism… if not depression and loneliness (which is salved by the booze and buying all too often). Obviously, for the Christian, this celebration is meant to be so much more.
So, let’s talk about the real question that probably haunts the most Christian parents… and he’s coming to town: Santa Claus.
*Many parents fear the consequences of “lying” to their children.
*Many Christian parents fear their children equating Jesus and Santa and when discovering (spoiler alert!) that it wasn’t actually Santa who came a left the presents by the fireplace; they will also assume that Jesus is also essentially a legend in the same way that Santa is.
* Many others are afraid that by allowing Santa to play a role in Christmas, that Jesus will be relegated to second place in the celebration of His own birth!
Knowing of these concerns, my wife and I talked through them early on and still decided to make Santa Claus part of our family’s Christmas. So, though I certainly cannot make that decision for you and yours, I suppose I can tell you how we handled it.
First… we have striven to be intentional to keep Jesus the focus of our Christmas celebration. The Luke and Matthew accounts are read every year, we pray, we celebrate Jesus’ birthday (even a cake one year), we sing hymns with our friends, etc. Also, when we introduce Santa, we introduce him based on the historical figure of Saint Nicholas of Myra – who was motivated by his own love for Jesus, apparently. So, for us (and apparently for him), Santa was/is about Jesus too!
Second… we are careful and intentional about when and how we include the older kids in the Santa Claus story. As mentioned above, we talk about who he was historically, and his connection to Jesus. The account I learned is basically that our modern Santa is loosely based on a generous disciple of Christ named Nicholas of Myra. He was known for gifts to the poor, especially a dowry for some girls so that they could be married rather than enter prostitution. Like Hallowe’en, which is the shortened version of the phrase “All Hallowed Evening”, Santa Claus comes from the original Saint (“santa” in latin) and Ni-“cholas.”
In the end, in was our decision to work hard to give our children a chance to enjoy and appreciate as many aspects of childhood, even the mysterious and fantastical ones… knowing that when the time was right, we would initiate the conversations about things like this with them.
Third… For my eldest, that was two winters ago. We told him that it had been us giving the gifts in honor of the example of Saint Nick, who in turn was following the example of Christ. We explained that just as his great grandmother sends us money every year to buy him something in her name (“this is from Gigi”), so in a similar way, God has provided for us to be able to get him some fun presents… following the example of great godly men like Nicholas. I don’t believe we are lying in either case any more than not telling a kid about a surprise party is lying. In essence, we honor Jesus’ birth by using the good gifts He has given us to get something fun and celebratory for our kids. To honor the example of Nicholas, and because it is fun, we give them in his name.
So far, this has worked well for us. Personally, I think each family has to decide on their own how to handle this kind of thing. However, I will make clear that I think it is vitally incumbent on all Christian families to focus on Christ. Our secular world loves Christmas time as a “season”, not a celebration of a specific event. Whether a season for singing loud for all to hear, or a season for fine alcoholic beverages, or for great music, or for reds and greens, or for improving the national economy. This isn’t even meant to be primarily a season to be nice, to serve the needy or to spend time with family; these are all wonderful secondary effects of this event, but they are not the event.
See, I love a great “Christmas” movie as much as the next guy…
“Miracle on 34th Street”,
“A Wonderful Life”,
“A Christmas Carol” (and all versions of it – including my favorite, Scrooged”), and
… but all of the powerful messages of these movies must still be extensions of the real reason we celebrate the Christ’s Mass – The Christ. The birth of the baby Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, come to obey His Father and love His creation… to purchase the souls of men… this is what we celebrate. You can actually hear my thoughts on this on the Nov 28th sermon posted at http://bethelbible.podbean.com/page/3/
Should this truth inspire us to be more joyful, more appreciative, more generous, more likely to sing loud for all to hear? Absolutely! For a cool vision of this in action, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE… Did you see a great choir in action, an embarrassing situation, or Jesus proclaimed Messiah in front a lost people and in a temple of materialism? That is about our own heart for Christmas… and life, I think.
To be kinder to our fellow man, to want to party with our friends, to express love to those nearest to us? I hope so!
Remember, though that we may exhibit man’s peace and goodwill toward men, but we are celebrating God’s peace and goodwill toward men. For the Christian, all of these must be the effect and outflow of these two truths:
- “Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given…”
- “His name shall be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – Isaiah
Finally, I will note that I think I like the fact that Christmas is celebrated at what must be the “wrong” time of the year is GREAT, because it brings into fine relief that there is no such thing as a wrong time of the year to celebrate these truths.
My advice? Remember that Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of Christmas, and enjoy the good gifts He has given together.
Oh, and a little education for my slightly more sensitive Christian friends, the “X” in “X-Mas” is ok. “X” is the latin symbol for “Chi” and is theological shorthand for “Christ.” In fact, if you looked over the shoulder of many seminary students, you would see them using “Chi” (X) for Christ. and theta for God (theos), etc. In the beginning, this was certainly not meant as any kind of disrespect. Might it now? I am sure in some cases, but let’s at least be educated about the real source.