Every year around
this time early November, the cultural juggernaut known as Christmas lurches into motion. From the approximately 20,000 depictions of Christmas I have witnessed in the last month (98% of them being commercials), I have deduced that the culture at large views the purpose of Christmas as “family togetherness.” It is a time when people celebrate the ones they love, mainly by participating in traditions with them, such as the exchange of gifts. Since all of us want to be part of a community, and the family is the cornerstone of community, Christmas brings out strong desires in us. For many who come from broken families or who have lost loved ones, Christmas might even be the hardest time of the year. And even for those who are part of vibrant families and communities, Christmas sometimes puts an immense pressure on them to live out the cozy, utopian visions of Christmas that are thrown at them all day, every day from advertisers. The constant commercial exposure, which plays on our deepest desires–and anxieties–often results in consumer excesses, as we attempt to “buy” our way into a good Christmas. Add to that a packed schedule that apparently comes with the territory of December, and it is easy to become overwhelmed and stressed out by what is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year.”
Into this melee enters Christians, most of whom rightly recognize that family togetherness, while admirable, is not the end goal of Christmas. Rather, Christmas began as a
pagan festival way to celebrate Christ’s birth. Christians also recognize (at least sometimes) that the economic excesses associated with the holiday are at best deeply ironic and at worst pretty sinful, considering that Christmas is supposed to be in honor of Jesus, a poor carpenter who didn’t seem to really love economic excess.
Faced with the disparity between what culture tells us is Christmas, and what we ourselves believe Christmas to be, we Christians react in different ways. Some of us get downright polemical, demanding that culture “put Christ back into Christmas,” usually by saying “Merry Christmas,” instead of “Happy Holidays” (for an insightful analysis of this phenomenon, see this blog post by Jenny Rae Armstrong). Others rebel equally as strongly, but instead suggest that Christians should use the holiday to solve poverty instead of giving gifts to each other. Still others, like some from my faith tradition, don’t see any intersection at all between Christ and Christmas and actually believe it’s best to keep the two separate.
Believe it or not, I don’t really agree with any of those approaches.
And thinking about all three of them makes me realize that we sometimes make things a little too complicated. (Yes, I just said that.) In the past, I have analyzed and re-analyzed with Greg what Christmas means to us and how it should be celebrated by our family. I think all of that time spent overthinking was a good thing, too, because after the ideas had marinated for a year or two, I came into this season feeling a clarity of purpose that is unusual for me.
So here it is–this is my Advent conspiracy:
I am going to celebrate for a reason.
Ta-da! That’s it! That’s all! My Savior was born (at some random point in the year), and I am going to choose this time to be happy about it. And even though I’m always “happy” about it, I have learned through reading through the Old Testament that God thinks there is great value in purposeful celebration. In the Law, he commands such celebrations as a way to remember and acknowledge the wonderful things He has done. And so I’m going to use Christmas to celebrate with my friends and family the wonderful fact that He sent Jesus. I’m going to exchange photo cards with my extended family in different states and my wonderful church family back in South Carolina. We’re going to have parties, and spend time with our new family here in Nashville. We’re going to bake cookies, and we’re finally going to meet our neighbors and ply them with said baked goods. We’re going to spend time as a family going to the (mostly free–woo hoo!) Christmas events around town, like the Lighting of the Green at Lipscomb. Basically, in all of our merry-making, we hope to reenact our own version of the angel chorus that appeared to the shepherds. That in-breaking of joy to the world was not subtle. Or humble. Or small. They celebrated in a big way.
And maybe all of our celebrations won’t name-drop Jesus overtly (Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly what kind of dwelling Jesus was born in, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a gingerbread house), but we are going to make it clear to our family and anyone else interested that we are happy because our Lord came to earth. And so we are going to celebrate!
The celebration part is easy–everyone is celebrating. The tricky parts comes with the “for a reason” segment of my resolve. Honestly, what first motivated me to get back to the purpose of Christmas was my kids. As I thought about how I wanted to raise them, I realized that I wanted to teach them that the true meaning of Christmas was a way to celebrate what God did for us. Then I realized that really, that’s the true meaning of life. I realized that I wanted to teach my kids how to put Christ in everything, not just Christmas. I realized that if Christmas meant radically restructuring our lives to shoehorn Jesus in, then we were doing it wrong. I wanted the Jesus part to come naturally, just as it should come throughout the rest of our year.
Thus, as we take special time this year to celebrate Christ’s birth, we want the “Christ” part to be as seamlessly integrated as He hopefully is in the rest of our lives. Here are some of the specific ways we have tried to do that:
For one, I have started reading an Advent devotional book as part of my normal, everyday quiet time. The one I’m reading is the first one I’ve ever read, so I can’t compare it to others. Even so, I think it’s pretty incredible. It is called, Watch for the Light, and I first bought it because the Amazon reviews were so amazing and because I could get it for .75, plus shipping, at half.com. (Sorry, apparently that deal is gone.) The book has some deep stuff in it, and reading it has really opened my eyes and mind to the miracle that we celebrate at Christmas this year.
With the kiddos, we do an Advent calendar. Because I waited to shop for one on November 30, the day before the calendars start, I couldn’t find one of the cheapo cardboard ones, and certainly not one with the Bible verses on the back of the doors like I was wanting. Instead, I caved and bought a reusable one from Target and filled it myself. My children are super into it because they love
Jesus candy, but I also printed out the Christmas story in 25 separate verses, and added one of them for each day. Each morning, we read our story, and then Luke reads the newest verse to us. (Added bonus: reading practice!)
Another thing I hope to start if it ever arrives is this devotional for bedtime. We have a yearly devo book we do with the kids at night already, so as part of our conspiracy to seamlessly incorporate baby Jesus, we are simply going to replace that one with this Jesse tree one at Christmas. Apparently, it does involve making 25 ornaments or something, but I read some suggestions that you can just use a piece of felt with printouts from the computer. That is going to be our route...if the book ever comes (next year, I’m writing this post in October).
As far as the whole Santa thing, we don’t try very hard to keep up the charade, though we do play it all out like a game. This year I read the kids this book about St. Nicholas that I got for 75% off after last Christmas, and in emulation of St. Nick, I think we are going to be “Sneaky Santas” for one of our friends. Since my kids love sneaking and secrets, I think they’ll get a kick out of it.
And…I think that’s it. That’s how we are going to celebrate Christmas this year.
Looking over our ways of celebrating Christmas, it appears that my go-to solutions to problems usually involve either books or candy, and I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description of my approach to life. Mainly, we just want to model joy and love to our children…joy that we have a Savior and love that tries to emulate Him.
How do you celebrate Christmas?