It’s just over two weeks until Christmas. When I was a little girl I absolutely loved Christmas. It was a true highlight of the year, long anticipated and savoured. As I’ve gotten older the shine has come off Christmas as an occasion, and I approach the festive season with equal measures of excitement and dread.
I know that is the reality for so many people. Christmas may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it is mixed with the most grief, financial stress, and relational complexity of the year as well. Christmas is a time for fun, family and food. It is also the time of year with the highest levels of credit card debt, loneliness, domestic violence, and suicide.
The Meaning of Christmas
Christmas = Presents
“I can’t afford to buy the kids the gifts they want for Christmas.” Presents. Is this what Christmas is really all about? Many people have recognised the insane waste of buying copious amounts of useless presents, buying things we can’t afford for people who don’t need or even want them. The senseless accumulation of ‘stuff’. It’s a terrible trap disguised by the sparkle of Christmas.
Too often this has been a trap that I have fallen into. I fell in love with the impressive pile of shiny presents under the tree and bought things that the kids didn’t need and often didn’t really use. I remember when I used to make all my presents. I spent months sewing, painting, creating. It took a lot of time, but there was something very special and thoughtful about making gifts myself.
I still enjoy buying gifts for my family, but I have culled the list of people I buy for to a very small number, and have made ‘secret Santa’ arrangements with other family members so that we just give and receive one gift. For my own family I no longer worry too much about making sure I spend an equitable amount on each child, and just get each of them something that I know they will love and appreciate.
Christmas = Family
“This year the kids will be with their father.” I have had this exact conversation several times recently. We have bought into the idea that Christmas is all about family, but we live in a reality of broken relationships and fights over who will and won’t be at our Christmas dinner table. The expectation and hope of a happy family gathering at Christmas puts so much stress on already strained relationships.
Last year was the first time that my immediate family wasn’t all together for Christmas Day. It was our year for traveling to the Yeppoon side of the family, and my two eldest girls wanted to say at home to take advantage of the extended casual work hours. They chose not to come, and I chose to go anyway. It was hard, but I still think it was the right thing to do. I enjoy a great relationship with my girls. We enjoy hundreds of family dinners, outings and conversations through the year. Why does Christmas get to be the one day to rule or ruin them all? Not being together on that one particular day doesn’t trump all of the wonderful other days we spend together.
Christmas = Jesus
We’ve all seen the cards and Facebook memes, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” This is a lovely sentiment, but it isn’t really true. Christmas has it’s origins in the pagan festival to worship Saturn at the time of the Winter solstice. It was a week long Roman holiday called ‘Saturnalia’. In the forth century Christians highjacked the festival and made it a celebration of Jesus birth, but Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th of December. The Christmas traditions of decorating trees, singing carols, giving gifts and feasting on special food all have their origins in celebrations that are not related to Jesus or have any biblical meaning. It’s really interesting to look into the origins of Christmas traditions around the world. Find out more here.
Jesus is definitely the most important part of my Christmas celebration. At least in intention, if not obviously in practice. It can be hard to fit Jesus in to the busyness of the day, in between opening the presents, preparing the food and hosting the family. The miracle of Emmanuel, God with us, is one that I need to continue to contemplate, celebrate and share. Jesus may not have been born on Christmas Day, but Jesus was born, and that is worth celebrating.
So, what does Christmas actually mean?
Great question, and I don’t think there is a simple, one-size-fits-all answer. I wish it wasn’t about commercialism, relational pressure and religious intolerance. If Christmas is about ‘Peace on Earth’ then there is a lot we’re doing wrong in the way we celebrate. I hope you can enjoy your Christmas, but if it isn’t turning out the way you wished for, take a deep breath and take a step back. Christmas is just another day.