When I was a kid, I bought hook, line and sinker into the whole idea of “Christmas spirit” that the movies and TV shows feed us every year. I dreamed of one day having a lovely romantic Christmas with the man I loved, a wonderful time of family and good food, and general merriment. In hindsight, it was an idol for me that needed to be torn away. When I met my husband, that’s exactly what happened. I got a cold hard introduction to reality and my silly dreams were shattered. Christmas became a time of stress and misery as we battled ongoing guilt trips to buy gifts with money we didn’t have for people we didn’t see on a regular basis (and therefore had no idea what they might like or need), and travel to several different cities in bad weather to try and get in some “family time” with so many different people. Inevitably, most people were still unhappy because we’d have to chose one place to spend the 25th, and everyone else would feel slighted. And of course, ’tis the season for cold and flu, so we often felt especially miserable while trying to accommodate all the family demands.
In all of that, there was little time to focus on celebrating the actual birth of Christ. I began to eagerly look forward to January when things could get back to normal. After several years of this we decided we’d had enough and chose to stay home and begin developing our own traditions. (Many family members were very unhappy with us, and some still are. But most have adjusted).
I also started looking more closely at the pagan and secular influences that are so intermingled in our celebrations. Now, I realise that we aren’t actually engaging in pagan worship when we decorate a tree in our living rooms, etc. But when you really examine so many of the standard “Christmas traditions” that our culture embraces, you quickly find their roots in a number of places that don’t make a whole lot of sense. Much of what we see as tradition isn’t even all that old and simply stems from “A Christmas Carol” English themes. Realizing this was a factor in my blossoming freedom from the Christmas pressure. We are free to partake in these little festivities, but we don’t have to if we don’t want to! And skipping them is NOT being a “Scrooge”. I have developed a great respect for my brothers and sisters in the Lord who chose not to celebrate Christmas at all. They may well be onto something.
If someone wishes me a Merry Christmas (another tradition with interesting roots), I am free to say it in return. For a number of years, there has been a movement towards fighting for the right to say those two little words. And the point of it is not lost on me. Our culture is actively and frantically moving away from any recognition of Christ (at least the real one), and turning things like Christmas into a Santa-focused generic “holiday”. In that sense, it is something to rail against. But, on the other hand, people like John Calvin and the Puritans adamantly rejected Christmas celebration because of its roots. So I think there is room and freedom to go either way (within reason). I no longer feel the need to pressure the poor overworked, exhausted cashier at the mall to say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. It’s pathetic when employers try to limit their free speech in these circumstances. But it’s being made into a much bigger deal than is needed.
So, what traditions have I held onto? Well, we still have some family who insist on gift giving (which is a pain in the butt since we don’t live in the same city and it’s especially hard to shop when you can’t drive due to another MS relapse). So we do that and it is still a bit of a stress, though not as bad as it used to be. And we put up some lights because frankly, this is a very dreary dark time of year. We don’t get much snow in West Coast Canada (think “Seattle weather”, for any Americans who are reading this). Colourful lights help to brighten things up a bit. We tend to keep them up through February or so. And we sing Christmas hymns at church and listen to a few in the car sometimes. And when possible we go to Christmas Eve service for some fellowship time with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. That’s pretty much it. And it’s wonderful! I’m so thrilled to be done with both the idol and the pressures of the season. Now I can actually focus on worshiping the Lord.
In the past number of years I’ve really come to understand the freedom and importance of celebrating the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ all year. I can actually listen to a Christmas hymn any time of year and celebrate the birth of my Lord. It is powerful to recognize all of this in the perspective of our future hope in eternity. If you are a Christian and feeling low this season, I cannot recommend highly enough the sermon series preached by Arturo Azurdia on the entire book of Revelation. I try to listen to at least part of a sermon every day. What a joy! It is impossible to feel hopeless when you consider the amazing eternity ahead of us and the amazing majesty and wonder of our Lord! You can find the series here. Just scroll down to the Revelation section.
If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a hearty Happy Christmas! And if you don’t, I wish you a restful and peaceful day off work. 🙂
Edited to add: I realized I didn’t mention the matter of generosity during the Christmas season. Of course I encourage and take part in this. It is a great time of year to help with soup kitchens, food hampers, church clothesline programs, the food bank, Lighthouse Ministries, etc. But with this too, I strongly believe that we need to be making a point of doing this all year. Take a look at your local food bank come May or June. That’s when donations are actually most needed. So, definitely, give generously at this time of year. But not only during this time of year.