I have been listening to Christmas music for several weeks … OK, since before Thanksgiving. I like an eclectic mix from classical sacred to classic secular. As I have been listening, I have noticed a kind of roller coaster shift in focus concerning the meaning and celebration of Christmas across the centuries. Christmas has vacillated in meaning from religious sacred, as Christ Jesus is born, to secular “me” centered.
Over its long history this is a constant theme and battle. In 1647 England, Christmas had become so associated with immoral behavior, its celebration was banned. In 1659 the Colony of Massachusetts made it a criminal offense to publicly celebrate Christmas and anyone caught doing so was fined. It was not until the 19th century that we had a revival of Christmas festivities that directly affect our North American celebrations today.
Every year you hear the argument that we need to “purify” the celebration and meaning of Christmas. Some argue the behaviors exhibited during Black Friday doorbusters and some lyrics of secular Christmas songs (i.e., “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”) harken back to that wasteful and immoral behavior the 1647 puritans so hoped to purge. While I am concerned by the commercialization and other immoral behaviors associated with the celebration of Christmas and, as you might expect, I celebrate the birth of the Christ child as being “the reason” for Christmas, I also believe that Christmas can be a celebration for everyone, even atheists.
I believe the best celebrations of Christmas point people to love and care for one another. When people volunteer their time at local food banks (like HAAM) or donate money and goods to one of a number of organizations who help the homeless or those who are disenfranchised, they are celebrating the spirit of Christmas (whether they realize it or not).
While we just celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas is a time we can show gratitude to those who are meaningful and special to us. This is one reason we continue to give gifts to one another, which harkens back to the gifts the wisemen brought the Christ child. For me as a person of faith all these actions point to the true meaning of Christmas … the birth of Jesus Christ and the incarnation of hope, peace, joy and love. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Merry Christmas to you all!