I'm having a hard time with Christmas this year.
Maybe it's because this is the first time in three years that we are celebrating in our own home; maybe it's because we are in the middle of summer here; maybe it's because we now have kids who need to be taught about what Christmas really is; maybe it's because of all the consumerism and economics of the season; maybe it's because I'm trying to lose weight and save money. I'm not really sure, all I know is it's been weighing heavily on my heart these past few weeks. I don't even want to play Christmas music, decorate or bake "Christmas" cookies. It just doesn't feel like Christmas.
Here in Brazil, we don't really celebrate Thanksgiving or Halloween and so the Christmas season seems to be extra important. As early as October I noticed Christmas decorations going up in the shops. The malls here go all out with massive displays of green and red wreathes, strings of lights, giant trees, reindeer, snow(!?) and of course, Santa. There is a huge hype, this rush, this frenzied madness of parties and shopping all culminating in "Christmas Day" and while it is all very pretty and engaging and charming, it really misses the point entirely. This I think is what saddens me the most. I know that Christmas has all kinds of baggage; no doubt you will find someone who will explain away all the Christmas traditions by linking them to some pagan or secular custom from the world's often not-so-pretty history.
Despite the way "Christmas" originated and the many ways it has been changed and re-interpreted over the centuries, I think we have to admit that for the most part Christmas is no longer a "Christian" holiday (if it ever really was). So now what? It's not so much the "pagan" rituals or customs that were included in the celebration of Christmas that bothers me, it's the fact that now we seem to have put so much more emphasis on the decorations and the gifts and other "traditions" that we have lost sight of the simple, incredible fact that we are trying to remember and celebrate the most important life this world has ever known. The life that gives meaning to our lives.
As I've been mulling this over the past few weeks (this post was probably started at the beginning of December) a few thoughts have been forming...
1. Christmas is not a day, it is a season. It doesn't matter if we celebrate on the 24th, the 28th or even in January. What matters is what (or rather who) we are celebrating. As Christians we celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ, but it doesn't stop there - throughout the year we have other seasons where we celebrate other seasons of His life - his ministry, death and resurrection. We celebrate not only that he lived, but that he died and lives again. Christmas is only the beginning...
2. A friend of mine posted this on his facebook status a while ago, "Christ did not incarnate to fight against culture, but to transform it. Why should His disciples do any differently?" (Flavio Silva). I'm not sure if he was referring to Christmas, but when I read it, I immediately thought of its application to our celebration of Christmas. We don't need to give up Christmas, but I think we need to be different in the way we celebrate, so that people can tell it's not just about the holidays, food, gifts and decorations. We need to transform the culture of Christmas.
3. As I thought more about how to celebrate Christmas I thought of this scripture, "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15). If we celebrate differently, we will have opportunities to share the hope we have.
So don't call me Scrooge (now that's a whole other ball of wax...) but we are definitely celebrating Christmas differently this year - no Santa, no huge pile of gifts, no Christmas tree, no "Christmas" songs about reindeer, snow, mistletoe and elves - just sincere acknowledgment, gratitude and thankfulness for the one simple life we celebrate at Christmas - Christ.