by Peter Wallace, © 2007
It seems like we all talk about the “good old days” of Christmas, and bemoan how overly commercialized Christmas has become. There’s truth to the fact that Christmas has changed, but I’ve had a bit of a change of heart. I think Christmas is still okay.
The first thing to consider is that most Biblical scholars feel that Jesus was actually born in the springtime, but early Christians made the strategic move of picking December 25th as his birthday, in order to tie in to the pagan celebrations around the Winter Solstice. So, while Christmas has always been a time of religious celebration and reflection, even those early church leaders seemed to be okay with making it a bit of a party time.
In terms of the commercialization of Christmas, I think it’s partly a reflection on changes in society. When I was a kid, we all wanted as many toys as possible, poured over the Christmas catalogues for hours, and raptly watched every toy commercial around every Christmas program on TV. One difference is that we had no expectation of getting most of those toys. Now, it seems that a lot of parents view it as their duty to get whatever their kids want.
If you add to that the proliferation of divorce over the years, which in some cases leads to a parental competition and a grand-parental competition, and sometimes a step-parental and step-grand –parental competition. Pretty soon you’ve got six year-olds driving around in Mercedes.
The emergence of easy credit has stoked those fires, too. Most men wouldn’t have considered buying a diamond bracelet for their wives 40 years ago, but now, it’s only $50 per month for two years, so any man who truly loves his wife should buy her at least two.
Here’s the other side of the coin, though. We were at a Madison mall looking for a book Saturday night and thought we’d elegantly dine in the food court. While we were eating, I looked around and saw a mother and daughter who had been out shopping. They seemed to be having a really nice conversation while they ate. Then I panned the room, and saw lots of friends and family members showing what I would describe as “good cheer.” Everywhere, people were thinking about what Uncle Frank or Cousin Bernice might like for Christmas. They were feeling good about thinking about others.
Two teenage girls were staffing the Salvation Army bucket, ringing the bells. I put in a buck, and thanked them for giving up their Saturday evening. They seemed pleased. I’m sure there were Christmas parties going on all over, with friends and neighbors getting caught up with each other, and feeling the spirit of the season – along with the spirits of the season, if you catch my drift.
The way I see it is this: if you and your family are Christians, periodically go to church, and have a true belief in the Bible, none of these seasonal distractions will change you — could change you. If you’re kind of vaguely Christian, this season is a nice reminder of how you felt when you were growing up, and the magic of a really wonderful story.
If you’re not Christian at all, you might find that the warmth of all these celebrations during this cold season is reason enough to play along. The way I see it, you don’t need to convert to enjoy a good Christmas cookie, or even to hum along to a Christmas carol.
The story of Christmas is really the beginning of the story of Easter, and as humans we’re really not able to fully comprehend the complexities and theological ramifications within either story. So, if imbedded within the stimulation of the economy and all the parties and concerts and family gatherings there is some sense of the gift of that birth, I would say it’s a good thing.
I love Christmas, and I always have. I refuse to let the commercialization, or the people who complain about the commercialization spoil it for me. And on Christmas Eve, late at night, I’ll always hear “Silent Night,” and I’ll pause for a moment and reflect.