During the weeks leading up to Christmas, there have been a lot of complaints about the ever-increasing commercialization and secularization of this most holy holiday. These concerns are justified, of course. We’ve also heard far too many reports of ridiculous and absurd restrictions on expressing Christmas joy.
But I’m about to give you a different spin on the subject.
In the introduction to the photo essay “Christmas in America,” the publishers wrote: “Just when the air turns frosty and the days shrink into darkness, the Christmas season arrives in America. It begins at Thanksgiving – with families, feasts and football. Then, during the next six weeks we shop and decorate, worship and make merry. Our hearts warm in the winter cold. We find compassion for strangers, and we remember there are miracles. Pious or festive or both, we join together in an extraordinary national festival.”
These words neither condone nor condemn the sometimes excessive celebrations, both religious and secular, that take place during Christmas. And, frankly, I don’t mind the celebrations, either.
Everyone from conservative Christians to tree-hugging greenies find the consumerism of Christmas offensive. But, in some ways, I find it wonderful. You see, I think it’s rather grand that an entire nation can turn itself over for a giant party once a year.
Granted, we live on a farm far away from urban lights. We are surrounded by quiet, devout people who fully recognize the importance and significance of Christ’s birth. When we want a dose of holiday hubbub, we go to the city and stroll the sidewalks. Then we drive home again to our quiet rural life.
But the hustle and bustle, the parties and the stores, the decorations and the lights – are these such bad things? Let me explain what I mean.
Like it or not, Christmas has become a secular holiday for many. But no matter how much it’s corrupted by the Scrooges who try to squelch any expression of godly cheer, true Christians will never lose sight of the reason for the season. In some ways, Christians have the best of both worlds at this time of year. We have the holy contemplation and devout reading of the Gospels to celebrate the Gift we are given, and we also have the fun of jingle bells and decorated homes and pretty stores when we’re in the mood for something festive and lively.
In other words, Christians are automatically granted a richness and depth to Christmas that secular celebrators cannot even begin to fathom.
Make no mistake, I do not applaud the secularization of Christmas. I do not admire avarice or greed or debt. I am sickened by Black Friday stampedes. I am appalled by the continuous attempts to suppress expressions of Christmas (not “winter” or “holiday”) joy.
But I also recognize that sometimes it’s fun to give gifts, and Christmas has become the time to do that. If the commercialism of Christmas offends you, think instead in terms of the blessing Christmas shopping brings to merchants, when higher sales allow them to stay in business and keep people employed. (I used to be a lot more critical of commercialism until we became merchants ourselves. Now I am more understanding.)
And regardless of how secular this holy day has become, I cannot find fault for the increase in charitable impulses people feel. There is a Salvation Army bell-ringer on every corner (God bless them). Organizations host Christmas boxes for the needy. We hear glorious stories of people helping perfect strangers. Whether these impulses arise from a pious or a secular source, the result is sharing and joy and a lot of happy people. Is that such a bad thing?
Sure, there are moochers who take advantage of others at this time of year. We know darned good and well that some people who receive holiday assistance are not cold, hungry or destitute. But you know what? Who cares. There will always be people like that. We still feel the urge to find compassion for strangers. For every moocher who doesn’t really need Christmas help, there are many others who truly do.
Fred, Scrooge’s nephew in “A Christmas Carol,” sums it up: “I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time … as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of … when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good … and I say, God bless it!”
Christmas is a time when we can cut loose in a way we normally wouldn’t. Obviously this can be bad (excessive drinking, etc.) but it can also result in expressions of great inspiration or even goofiness. What other time of year will people serenade strangers at an airport to cheer them up?
I know there’s a great deal of stress during the holidays, perhaps this year more than most. Many are unemployed. Some people are forced by tradition or blood ties or employer requirements to associate with people they may not like. Some people make everyone else miserable while trying to create the “perfect” holiday. Some are alone or far from home. Some work for a business or service that gets slammed this time of year. The joy of Christmas may be buried under duty and obligation. For these people, the miracle of Christmas must be contemplated at a different time when things slow down. That’s OK.
But above all, this is the time of year when even non-religious folks are forced to remember what started it. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
What a wonderful day. A warm and blessed Christmas to you all.