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What is the purpose of Christmas? Three questions.

December 10th, 2004 · 3 Comments

What is the purpose of Christmas?

1. Is it a religious holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus?

2. Is it a reason to enjoy winter festivities, foods and fun?

3. Is it a time to gather together and build family traditions, culture and memories?

I ask these questions because each year I wrestle with the purpose of this seasonal celebration. I find that these three reasons can contradict each other. For example, the preparations for Christmas parties or presents can overwhelm the time, leaving little energy to focus on spiritual significance. Family traditions and reunions can clash with both festivities and religious observation especially if relatives have different beliefs from each other. The spiritual, material and relational can each pull in completely different directions.

Integration is what I desire in life but it’s not always what I live. Or always possible. At first I celebrated Christmas with caution, wanting to preserve the spiritual aspect as much as possible. I feared that lights and trees and excessive gifts would clutter and confuse the children’s minds.

But now I wonder whether this holiday should be seen as winter fun, something our culture does to celebrate the season and make winter warmer. Tonight the girls and I sorted through a box of decorations. The kids liked the lights, so I hung them around the nativity. Now baby Jesus is trying to sleep surrounded by blinking rainbow hues. A culture clash, perhaps, if not a color clash, these modern lights hung around a metal sculpture of a baby who slept in a manger.

Jesus didn’t come for Christmas. As far as I know, he never said his birthday should be celebrated, especially on December 25th. So trying to preserve it as a religious holiday in itself seems silly in a sense, and is also swimming upstream.

For those who believe, Christmas should be every day. There are 364 days of the year besides December 25 that are also important for faith. I’m still wrestling with my thoughts and feelings, with how to integrate the various reasons for the season. But this year I’m thinking that it is all right to let the girls like the lights and goodies. Ten years from now they’ll think the blinking rainbow strung across the living room is tacky but this year they’re amused and amazed. It’s a time to gather with family since we all have a holiday. We don’t have many opportunities to make those memories. Christmas in our culture is there for fun and for family.

I can’t deny that there are things that have nothing to do with Jesus that sweeten the season. But I also can’t deny that there are deeper reasons beyond candy canes and presents and that there are reasons to celebrate every day: it is true. There is a truth that is wondrous and amazing, a gift that still glitters long after all the others have become abandoned and boring, one that is always surprising us the more we unwrap it…

Tags: faith

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 C.K. Sample, III // Dec 10, 2004 at 8:36 am

    I often think about the contrast between celebrating Jesus’s birthday and the festivities of Christmas. I just wanted to point out that although Christ never said that we should celebrate his birth (just as he always redirected our attention to His Father and away from himself), angels and God do point to his birth as a reason to celebrate in their appearances to Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds in the field who follow the star. There is a reason for celebration here.

    However, he wasn’t born on December 25th. There’s no sure date, but all evidence points to sometime closer to the beginning of Spring. The Catholic church moved the celebration closer to the date of the winter solstice to attempt to co-op and squash pagan winter festivals. Much of our Christmas celebratory imagery comes from this pagan past (as does the fertility ritual of hiding Easter eggs on Easter).

    I’m wondering (as it is something that I often wonder in the context of what will Kristin and I do when we have kids): how do you handle the entire Santa Claus issue? Do you see it as a harmless myth in the spirit of winter celebration, or as a bare untruth? I remember feeling very wronged as a child when I discovered the “truth” about Santa. But I also remember feeling the magic of Christmas before discovering the truth, and I can see how that magic has its base not entirely in a little child’s greed, but in some very genuine magical feelings about life that I think are sometimes too easily missed in the modern world.

  • 2 Ernest Prabhakar // Dec 11, 2004 at 9:41 am

    Hi Julie,
    I with you on the integration issue. I think there has to be a way to celebrate all the positive, non-overtly-religious aspects of Christmas in the context of honoring Jesus. After all, there’s “deeper reasons beyond candy canes” even in candy canes themselves:


    Blessings, Ernie P.

  • 3 Julie // Dec 12, 2004 at 1:45 am

    Thank you, C.K. and Ernie for your comments.

    C.K., we have chosen not to include Santa in our Christmas celebration. That was how I was raised. My parents told me right off that Santa was a story. I can’t imagine raising my kids differently in that aspect.

    I agree that children have wonderful perspective, strong faith and special joy for life that are often overlooked, and eventually corrupted. I am only beginning to enjoy those myself…as a mom…and as a kid again…:-) I believe that the spiritual aspect of Christmas is only enhanced by childlike eyes…it is an amazing story!

    Ernie, I agree that many items have tradition and significance. I need to do more research! And in the sense that all good things and all gifts come from God, there is much to enjoy in this season…!

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