Wednesday, December 14, 2005

'Tis the season to be complaining

It wasn't the subject of this weekend's sermon at church, but it was mentioned. What the heck is the deal with the fact that sales associates in stores will not wish you a "Merry Christmas", but insist on "Happy Holidays"? I've been hearing a lot about it this year in particular, and it does seem to be rampant this year for unknown reasons, although maybe it's just that my attention has been drawn to it.

Still, Saturday morning I was sitting with my kids watching "Blue's Clues", their favorite show (and really an excellent one), and it was a holiday episode. It was definitely not a Christmas episode, repeatedly Joe wished the viewers "Happy Holidays", they exchanged "Holiday presents" and in the mail, Joe got a "Holiday card". The card was also an oddity, in that it featured four kids (for those not familiar with this children's program, the "mail" is pretty much always a video segment) who were each celebrating the holidays in their own way. One was celebrating Chanukkah, one celebrating Kwanzaa, one celebrating Ramadan, and one actually celebrating Christmas. I like the idea of not only featuring all of these holidays but making it clear that they are not different versions of the same holiday. (I was always irked as a Jewish child when teachers in school would tell students that Chanukkah was the "Jewish Christmas", a ridiculous concept.) Oddly enough, though, each kid had their own segment of the video to explain their holiday and its meaning but the kid celebrating Christmas. Not even a "secular" Christmas explanation.

You know "secular" Christmas. It's what I always celebrated with my mother at her house as a child. My Jewish father didn't like the idea of his son celebrating Christmas, and while it's understandable, I had no idea that Christmas was supposed to have anything to do with Christ; I had no idea who Christ was, actually. Christmas for my family and for many others means a tree with little glass globes hanging on it, lots of candy, maybe a wreath on the door, and then on the actual day, we get lots of toys. What does any of that have to do with Christ?

As a Christian now, what I often hear around this time of year is that we've forgotten the "true meaning of Christmas". Those are meant to be ironic quotes, in case you couldn't tell. That phrase gets tossed around a lot, and there's no consensus on what the "true meaning" actually is. Watch five Christmas movies and see five different definitions of what it is:

  • Being with family
  • Helping the poor
  • Believing in Santa Claus
  • Giving, not receiving
  • Peace on Earth
Everyone seems so sure that their idea of what Christmas is about is the "true meaning", and a lot of Christians seem to grind their teeth and grumble, "Sheesh, I thought it was about Jesus..." The fact is, all of the above things are fine and dandy (even believing in Santa Claus, for various reasons), and there's little or no reason to complain about them per se. Still, I suppose as a Christian one might wish that Christ could get more attention, especially on the holiday that is named after Him and is designed to be the commemoration of His birth. but still, what's the point in complaining?

Aside from the fact that Jesus almost certainly wasn't born on December 25th (a fact that ought to come as a surprise to very few people) and so it's really an artificial holiday that the Catholic Church stole from the Pagans sometime in the 4th century more or less, there is a question that lingers in the back of my mind year after year and came to full surface this year. At the risk of piling another level of complaint on top of what's already there: what gives?

Maybe I'm missing something by being in a church short on liturgy, or maybe not, but even as a person who believes in the truth of the Bible and wishes to use the date of December 25th to commemorate the events of Luke chapter 2, what the heck is the "true meaning of Christmas"? Peek in the window of my house, and you'd see the tree with the lights and little glass balls, and stockings hung on the bookshelf (no fireplace available), and wrapped presents for the children. Frankly, it doesn't look much different from what most non-Christian houses are probably looking like.

I enjoy getting into the "spirit" of Christmas with my wife; shopping for the tree, putting up lights, making cookie treats and the like. But all the time I was going through that string of tree lights looking for the burned-out bulbs so that the tree could look picture-perfect, I was thinking, "I'm spending hours this month doing stuff of no clear significance, when I can barely seem to find time to sit quietly and read the Bible. Is this right?"

Maybe the "true meaning of Christmas" is not to be found in chapter two, but in chapter 10;

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Is honoring Christ all about busying yourself to make everything fancy and nice, or is it taking the time to sit at His feet, listening to what He has to say to you? Yeah, as so many people point out about the story above, somebody had to make the meal, right? Thank God for the Marthas out there who are always working to be gracious hostesses. But in the midst of all the craziness of shopping for presents and making holiday meals, I hope everyone will have a time to stop complaining about how they seem to be the only person around who cares about making Christmas what it should be, and takes time to just sit down, relax, and hear what God has to say.

And that goes for people of any religion. Happy Holidays.


Newbirth said...

Christmas for my family and for many others means a tree with little glass globes hanging on it, lots of candy, maybe a wreath on the door, and then on the actual day, we get lots of toys. What does any of that have to do with Christ?

Sounds like the way I grew up. Christmas was a secular holiday. It's still mostly that way for me today in that I keep the traditions handed down to me as a child, and Christ has nothing to do with any of that. He's in my heart. The tree and the lights are as secular as anything other tradition I keep.

Easter...ah now...that I can sink my teeth into. The traditions I learned for Easter are only applicable if I have children, which I don't. Easter is ALL about Christ to me. :)

Newbirth said...

Can you change the background on the comments. When I bring up just the post with the comments appeded at the bottom it is unreadable.

Brucker said...

Yikes! That's the first time I had a comment, I had no idea how awful it looked! Will fix right away.

Brucker said...

Well, it's legible, but is it still awful?

FOAF said...

Actually, as I wrote in a paper in seminary, there is pretty good evidence that the church chose December 25th as the date to celebrate Christmas because Christ was born around the time of the winter solstice. There are several threads to the argument, but there is evidence that the december 25th date was celebrated as early as the 2nd century, before the pgan religious celebrations became widespread in Rome.

I don't want to reproduce the whole paper here, but suffice it to say that the case is not as certain as people want to make it that December 25th was a bogus date for Christ's birth,

Brucker said...

Well, the simplest argument I'd ever heard against it was that late December is too cold for shepherds to be out in fields by night even in the Middle East. Of course, I'm sure there are those who might believe that or any other part of the story might be apocryphal anyway.