There is a lot to rant about during the holidays. There is good reason to be cynical, negative, even down right depressed. Too often the “surge” that we feel coming out of this often relates to opening gifts (yes, I still like opening presents), special meals with all the trimmings and perhaps meeting up with old friends and family, at least those we tend to like. How much of our solace is really in the truth we seek to keep paramount: The Birth of Christ.
You know, the truth is Christmas, in many ways, is what you make it. One example is the Christmas Tree. Historically it’s not easy to trace, but we know that much of what we celebrate did have its roots in pagan (Druid) worship. The Druids in ancient Britain would use evergreens, holly and mistletoe to represent eternal life, which for them would be obtained through means of nature worship (see Romans 1 for the dangers of this). The Christmas Tree was adapted seasonally from these early practices when about a month’s range of Christmas celebrations was accepted (6th-7th century – anywhere from early December through January 7).
There is a legend about Martin Luther’s use of the Christmas tree. The story goes that as he was returning home one night he saw a tree that was particularly beautiful. He took it home and lit a single candle to represent the light of the world come and He is its Creator. Later the Puritans banned the practice, and much of what is associated with Christmas, due to its roots in paganism. This was particularly practiced in New England as the Puritans sincerely sought a pure church in every way. You have to understand, before you think the Puritans are wild-eyed fundamentalists, they were very sincere in purifying their devotion in the church and evangelism. Even in the late 1800’s there are records of pastors nearly losing their pastorates for bringing Christmas trees into the church.
As far as we can tell, these things are relatively verifiable. Are there pagan roots for some of our Christmas elements? Yes. Was Christ born around this date? No. Has celebrating Christmas been an issue for centuries? Without a doubt! What we are left with is a decision as individual families and collectively as a church.
Jan and I maintain several of these elements in our home, but in very simplified form. Are we willing to be taught on this and make a change? We’ve talked about it again this year. While we watch a Christmas story here and there (“Muppet Christmas Carol” being a family favorite), we don’t include Santa in our celebrations. That is a personal choice that we made very early due to a desire to minimize the difficulty of believing in a God who is also not seen and will come expectantly. We had such an experience with someone close to us whose child was very angry to find out that Santa was not true and wondered if her parents had lied about God as well. Again, you may think this too much, but as I lead my home I know it to be the right course. Whatever you do is up to you, but let’s face it, anyone who can get overly upset and feel that Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa probably lost focus a long time ago. I know, that sounds really sharp. I was raised with a very soft approach to Santa (you know, he wasn’t used as a substitute for my parents parenting me…the whole “behavior” thing). Yet, I knew clearly what Christmas is all about. I wasn’t mad when it was confirmed he was not real (early skeptic). So, it is absolutely possible to raise your kids well and have these elements, but we (Jan and I) just wanted more.
So, I say all of this to say my original point: Christmas is what you make it. Whatever you use (or don’t use) it is a fight to maintain the centrality of Christ and the gospel at Christmas. I really enjoy the beautiful lights, Christmas carols, cold nights and warm beverages. I like the season very much. I just want to make sure that the manger extends to the cross; that my heart-felt affections spill over to the poor; that the body of Christ kill the lesser joys so predominant at Christmas time with the more excellent joy of Christ’s first and second advent.
May we be like Simeon and Anna at the Temple. That our Christmas is not complete until we’ve seen and spoken of the Savior…