I have been thinking about Christmas celebrations and their meaning over the past few weeks. I read a clip somewhere reminding me about how Christmas celebrations are relatively recent in our nation's history becuase the first settlers shunned such celebrations as too worldly.
I have been thinking about the debate over whether stores should put up signs that say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. As far as I can tell, they put those signs up in an effort to sell stuff, not because they care about the birth of Jesus Christ. I would actually prefer they say something other than Merry Christmas in their efforts to sell stuff. After all, Christmas is not about commercialism or materialism.
I listened to a woman who serves in the after school ministry for at risk youth (The Generation Station) tell a story about taking 17 kids to see The Nativity. After the movie, one of them commented to her "Ms. Anita lied to us. She said we were going to see a Christmas movie!" Obvioulsy, Christmas movies are things like Elf and Santa Claus 3. We had a good laugh.
Then on the radio yesterday, I heard an NPR open call in show about the airport out west that removed its two Christmas trees rather than put in a menorah. A man called in to say that he does not call himself a Christian, he was not raised in the Church...but he does celebrate Christmas. He elaborated by saying he decorates, puts up a tree, and exchanges gifts with his family. Christmas for him is really a secular holiday.
That just confirmed things for me. There are actually two kinds of Christmases in our country (world?). One is the secular Christmas, which is about Santa Claus, elves, trees, office parties, family dinners, and presents. The Christmas celebrated by the Church and by those committed to following Jesus is about the birth of God's Son, Jesus, in human form, Emmanuel (which means God with us). All of the tinsel, trees, gifts, egg nog, and advertisements don't really have much to do with this deep reality, except that they are tools for celebrating. The birth of Jesus is certainly worth celebrating... I guess the question we have to ponder is what we are actually celebrating, why, and how our celebrations point to this in genuine ways.