Only Christians can keep Christ in Christmas
"Keep Christ in Christmas!" "Taking Christmas Back!"
Every year about this time I hear these and other slogans. The common thread is Christians lamenting the fact that Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus around 2,000 years ago, has become secularized and, in some sense, co-opted by the secular society around us.
No one can deny that these things have happened. The first celebrations of Christmas were solemn events, celebrated only by Christians, and centered on meditation of the awesome event of the divine Word becoming flesh and living among us (John 1:14). Gifts were exchanged, not on Christmas day, but 12 days later, on Jan. 6, Epiphany. This was the day set aside to celebrate the initial revelation of Jesus to the gentiles as depicted in the coming of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) who brought with them their own gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Over time, the gift giving aspects of the Christmas season began to be the focus, with Santa Claus and his elves becoming the embodiment of the "spirit of Christmas." Jesus was still present, albeit mostly in churches and in home nativity scenes, where reading and discussing the Christmas story (Luke 2:1-20) was a central part of most families' Christmas tradition.
These days we have gone still further from the origins of Christmas, with even Christian families focusing more on the gift-giving, the Christmas feast and family, and less and less on the mystery of God made flesh. Very few families, even Christian families, read and discuss the Christmas story as a central part of their traditions these days. And many people, even Christians, have taken up secular slogans like "Christmas is about family."
Secular society has always had a way of co-opting religious festivals (such as Halloween, originally a solemn time of spiritual preparation for the holy day of All Saints, and Easter, the day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead) for the "fun stuff" that is a part of them, and then quickly loosing them from their Christian moorings. The tragedy is not that they do this. The tragedy is that Christians too often join them in shifting the focus of the holiday away from its true meaning, and focusing on the "fun stuff" themselves, then moaning about how secularized the holidays have become.
I am all for keeping Christ in Christmas. But for at least the foreseeable future, secular American society will continue to focus on the Easter Bunny and egg hunts at Easter, ghosts and goblins at Halloween, and gifts, fun and family at Christmas. We will never persuade them with slogans or pressure them with condemnation to change the focus of the holiday away from Santa and gifts to a Christ that they don't know and can't appreciate.
To be honest, the only people who legitimately can keep Christ in Christmas are Christians, the people who know and serve Jesus. We can and should celebrate the coming of Jesus with songs of joy, with the retelling of the historical event, and with a sincere sharing with others the story of our own personal Christmas, when Jesus came into our lives, cleansing our hearts from sin, and giving us a fresh start and a glorious future.
As we live out the real meaning of Christmas, and share that real meaning with others, not condemning or belittling the way that they have been taught to celebrate the holiday, but opening our own lives and hearts to help them to see the real miracle that we are celebrating on that day, Christ will begin to infiltrate more and more people's hearts, will be allowed into the homes of more and more families, and will become the center of more and more Christmases all throughout our neighborhoods and communities.