How would you describe Christmas to somebody who had never heard of it? How would you describe the meaning of our traditions to somebody who had only seen the various Christmas specials on television? What will Christmas look like in the years to come?
One thing I’ve never seen is the Nightmare Before Christmas – so when I noticed that It would be on, I watched quite a bit of the program – there were some elements that I liked, but like one of the main characters, something about it felt wrong, so I didn’t bother to finish watching it. Unlike them, I could tell you exactly what it was.
We celebrate two different versions of Christmas. One version is the Commercial Christmas – this one is all about Santa Claus, his workshop at the North Pole, his red suit, his sleigh, his reindeer, his elves, his presents, his stockings … it pervades our culture like snow in Alaska in winter. You couldn’t escape it even if you wanted to. The other version is the Religious Christmas – this one is about Jesus Christ, the circumstances of His birth, the three wise men, the shepherds, the scripture, the sort of thing that doesn’t get a fraction of the air-time as the Commercial Christmas. It’s no wonder why, not everybody celebrates Christmas, it’s potentially offensive, there’s a long list of reasons why it’s not the popular version – but let’s consider them both for a moment:
When is Christmas?
Commercial: Christmas is December the 25th, when Santa Claus delivers toys to all the children of the world.
Religious: Christmas is December the 25th, when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ.
Who is …
Commercial: Santa Claus is a jolly old man who wears a red suit. Sometimes named Saint Nick, he has a vast force of workers in his operation, including elves that make presents (in the workshop at the North Pole), reindeer that fly the sleigh (either the reindeer or the sleigh are magic, sometimes both), in one night he delivers presents to all the children and is often credited with stuffing their stockings.
Religious: Jesus Christ is the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, wife of Joseph. Because of the Census, he was born in Bethlehem in the barn belonging to the innkeeper as there were no rooms. Angels told the shepherds in the field where to find him. The wise men followed a bright star in the sky. Jesus grew up to be a rabbi whose ministry lasted 33 years – he was crucified for no crime in particular. After three days, he rose from the dead as the atoning sacrifice for all mankind.
What are gifts?
Commercial: Good children usually receive the gifts they ask for by writing letters to Santa Claus or speaking to him at a mall appearance. Bad children are supposed to expect coal.
Religious: The Three Wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus – Gold, representing the wealth of a king, Frankincense, representing the office of a priest, and myrrh – a spice customarily used in burials. Our tradition of giving gifts to each other reflect the Magi’s gifts and God’s ultimate gift to us – his son.
What is the source?
Commercial: Christmas has evolved slowly over a long period of time, several books, short stories, poems, advertisements helped us to form and understand the modern commercial Christmas – were it not for these revelations, we would still think that Santa Claus was based off of Saint Nicholas of modern-day Turkey, a Christian. Thankfully, “The Night Before Christmas” (1823), “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1939), and other stories governed the shape of Christmas as we know it today.
Religious: The Bible – to be specific Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John describe Jesus’ birth in detail and how it fulfills prophecy in certain passages found in the Old Testament. Much of the traditions we have today are a mix of the religious, cultural, and commercial ideas over the centuries – but the essence has changed very little.
The Commercial Christmas is easy – it’s about getting caught up in the decoration, the buying, the gifting, the getting, it wishes cheer to all, welcomes all, and only asks that you believe in the impossible to make the improbable a reality. The Religious Christmas is sacred and holy, in a society that uses “Oh my God!” as an everyday expression – not out of reverence or respect, it’s started to loose it’s meaning and truth. It’s not about decoration or buying, but the ultimate gift and what it means to each of us as an individual. It’s not about what is easy, but what is true. As time goes on, the Commercial Christmas will be all that people will ever know, Saint Nick’s origins won’t be those of a Turkish gift-giver – but will reflect some other story. This Christmas 2.0 will overshadow it’s ancient origin – and then we will have lost everything that truly matters. They might as well give it a new name because there will be nothing of Christ in it.