“The True Meaning of Christmas”

Christmas is well and truly upon us. This means several things, including but not limited to: pine needles, cinnamon, baubles, tinsel, Yule logs, late-night shopping, Bing Crosby, stockings, tangerines, large bearded men dressed in red who can somehow visit millions of well-behaved children’s houses in one night, and commemoration of a young virgin in first-century Israel giving birth to a baby who turned out to be the Son of God and Saviour of the world. It also means there’s a lot of talk about the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ going around.

I’ve sat through so many of these talks that I can just about tell you the structure they generally take. The person giving the talk will usually start things out by addressing the fact that Christmas in the 21st century is way too commercial for its own good, perhaps using some big-name TV ad from that year to make their point. They will then talk about how this isn’t what Christmas is supposed to be about; how instead, we should use it as a time to value our families, friends and those in our communities, particularly those who perhaps don’t have anyone else to share the festive season with. If it’s in a church context, they might point out the fact that Jesus chose to come to earth as a tiny baby, and live amongst the downtrodden and repressed of society, despite having armies of angels at His beck and call. They might then end with a rhetorical question along the lines of “So, how are you going to spend this Christmas?”

Now, don’t get me wrong here: I wholeheartedly agree that this is how we should spend the Yuletide. I love that when my family sits down for lunch on December 25th, there’s sometimes someone there who would otherwise be alone. And of course, I’m not saying we can’t learn things from Jesus’ life; heck, we can learn more from Him than we can from any other individual in history. For all that some of these talks send me on guilt trips, I can actually agree with a lot of the points they make.

My question is: why don’t these messages apply all year round? Why is Christmas specifically a time for fellowship, cheer and love? What’s to stop us from acting like that in the rest of the year?

I mean, one could argue that since the materialistic/consumeristic message is so heavy at this time of year, we need some kind of antidote. But if you ask me, the rest of the year isn’t too different. Just because a TV advert doesn’t have sleigh bells jingling away in the background, doesn’t make it any less consumer-focused. Just because my halls aren’t decked with boughs of holly, doesn’t stop me from inviting people over. As that great song from The Muppets Christmas Carol puts it:

It is the season of the heart
A special time of caring
The ways of love made clear
It is the season of the spirit
The message, if we hear it
Is make it last all year

I’ve heard people making the same argument against Valentine’s Day, too. Like, why is there a specific day carved out for showing love to your significant other? Shouldn’t you do that every day you’re together? If I were married, and I only let my wife know I loved her one day out of every year, she probably wouldn’t be too pleased. There are definitely arguments to be made against festivals based around perennial values such as these.

So in closing, should we uphold Christmas as a time of love? Of course. But we also shouldn’t make the mistake of suggesting it’s the only time of love. Even if we don’t actually hold this view, the messages we give out can still suggest it. (Particularly if we spend the remaining 11 months demonising Donald Trump and Boris Farage, but that’s for another time…)

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