The fact that America launches its holiday season with a federal holiday dedicated to giving thanks is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it’s practically a miracle that our society continues to observe Christmas at all, let alone as its own federal holiday. In a society generally hostile toward Christianity (and indeed any claim of objective truth), one might reasonably expect that one of the most ancient and important Christian feast days would have been canceled long ago.
Nevertheless, despite attempts to overlook the Christian nature of Christmas, America’s mere recognition of it gives it a stamp of approval. The federal and liturgical dates remain identical, “Santa Claus” still means “Saint Nicholas,” and the attempts to replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” have never had complete success.
However much it misunderstands, our culture can neither change nor deny the origin of Christmas cheer. Within every holiday shopping aisle or Christmas light show, there is a kernel of truth and goodness.
With this in mind, Christians and conservatives can see the rising tide of Christmas energy not as a battlefield but as an opportunity to raise the culture to a new level of understanding and joy.
Replacing Criticism with Charity
Many of us are all too familiar with the complaints that commercialization has hijacked the holidays and shoved the celebratory timeline a month too soon. We could try to tune out all pre-Dec. 25 Christmas carols or refuse to look at prematurely decorated Christmas trees. But not only is this approach almost impossible in our world today, but it also risks filling our own Christmas preparation with more grumpiness than goodwill.
Why not view the newly lit office tree as a reminder of the soon-to-come Light of the World, or the shop window display as a reflection of God’s gifts to mankind? While we’re at it, why not share the facts about Saint Nicholas of Bari or the Christian stories of the Christmas tree and poinsettia with our friends, neighbors, or colleagues?
It’s true that most of the time, the potential consequences of “outing” ourselves as Christian or conservative can give us natural (and sometimes legitimate) pause. But Christmastime is different.
People are especially eager to have a fulfilling and joyful Christmas. Yes, Black Friday ads and holiday sales prioritize the presents, but many people — regardless of faith background — acknowledge Christmas as a season to think of others, spend time with family, and be generous toward charitable causes. (After all, how many popular Christmas movies have materialism rather than generosity as the moral of the story?) All of these are values that Christians cheer for.
Amid the hedonistic holiday mania, there are voices that are pushing back, and we can build upon that momentum. Two years ago, the British TV series “This Morning,” which boasts 2.26 million subscribers on its YouTube page, posted a video tutorial of a DIY Advent calendar. On the collaborative blog The Art of Simple, we find 12 simple tips for celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas. Meanwhile, Seacoast Kids Calendar, a parental guide site based in New Hampshire, offers suggestions to incorporate a sense of gratitude and delayed gratification on Christmas Day.
These trends offer hope in that they’re not complaints about what has been lost but rather encouragements about how to enhance our Christmas experience. We need more of it.
Showing a Better Way
Seeing these flashes of human goodness and virtue within our culture, Christians can build on that common ground. Only then can we introduce those around us to a still better way. We can shed light on the reality that contemplative preparation in the spirit of Advent (rather than a mad dash to spend and save), celebration throughout the 12 Days of Christmas (rather than a sudden and disappointing extinguish on Dec. 26), and a reverence for the Christmas story of Jesus Christ’s birth is not just “doing it right” but also making Christmas more joyful and peaceful for everyone.
Christina Pride, a mother of six living in northern New Jersey, offers an example of making a more traditional Christmas celebration appealing. Early on in their family life, Christina and her husband Matthew decided to stretch gift-giving across the 12 Days of Christmas, a familiar yet faded Christian custom.
“In total, we have 12 days of gifts and celebration,” Pride wrote in an email. “These 12 days are divided into categories with each happening three times: personal gifts, family gifts, book gifts, and family outings or experiences. The best gift is given on Christmas Day, but some days cost nothing (like family game night)!”
Pride added that forming new traditions like this involves going against the grain, which isn’t always easy. “At first, the kids were disappointed they weren’t having a huge one-day-gift-bonanza,” she admitted, “but they have grown to appreciate the slowness of savoring each day and each gift for what it brings, knowing there is yet more delight to come.”
When it comes to avoiding gift wrap stress and Christmas morning fights, the Pride family’s strategy can appeal to many families, Christian or otherwise.
“Be present and intentional, no matter how you choose to celebrate,” Pride offered as advice to parents. There might not be one “right way” to do Christmas, but Christians can offer plenty of direction.
It is true that our culture is replete with lies and offenses that sincere Christians must reject. At the same time, to reject our culture as a whole — including the good that is there — amounts to washing our hands of it, which is essentially shirking the Christian identity and mission. Christ called his disciples to make disciples of all nations, not distance ourselves from them.
We can and should make an effort to leave the world better than how we found it, for the sake of our children and for our fellow humans, who long for truth but might not know where to find it. And when a rare opportunity like Christmas presents itself, we do ourselves and the world a great service by seizing it.