What is Christmas?
Christmas is another liturgical celebration of the Church. The season is only 12 days long, starting on December 25 through to Epiphany on January 6. Christmas is also observed in secular ways with less religious observances.
The liturgical season of Christmas has impacted many traditions in the Western World. What is Christmas? What is Christian about it? What are your thoughts? Do we need to get all worked up about pagan resonance?
It is common to hear spirited debates about whether Christmas and Christmas trees are Christian. The truth is, only those doing the observance or celebration can truly speak to what it means for them. Christmastime, like American/Canadian Thanksgiving (regardless of origin), comes at that time of year when people want to unwind and take a break from the heavy year of work and have a family/fellowship time of fun and relaxation and partying, before meeting the new year ahead. What, however, are Christians saying when they observe Christmas, light up a Christmas tree, and set up a manger scene? This is also a time of year when other religious traditions have various celebrations of light. Christianity, like any other religion, makes use of signs and symbols.
Now, it is not advisable that you follow my unorthodox approach to when a Christmas tree is set up. I believe that Christmas comes and goes in no time, so if it makes you happy to set up your tree from Thanksgiving, then go right ahead.
Most importantly, I like the symbols of light and life, and giving and sharing and caring. Any religion seeking to use symbols of light and life can only use what already exists. Christians see Christ as the Light of the World. Lights on the Christmas tree, angels, animals, star of Bethlehem, shepherds, and whatever you like. Images from the gospel stories are used. Then there is the evergreen, which symbolises life and, more traditionally, an anticipation of the return of nature in its fullness after the bitter winter, when much of life hibernates, and many trees are in a resting phase prior to spring. Thankfully, we have no bitter winters in the Caribbean. But who knows what climate change will bring?
That pagans use evergreen and eggs and rabbits, et cetera, as symbols of life should not prevent anyone else from using them. Christianity is a human endeavour that developed over time. A first-century Christian might not recognise what we call ‘church’ today. The early Church had no hymnals, Bibles, pews, stained-glass windows, organs, or fundraisers. Dressing a tree for any celebration does not cause problems to world peace and justice. One can readily see how envy and greed would cause problems in our world. Those, I submit, are what we should be concerned about.
If you do not wish to celebrate Christmas that is fine, too. For some, it is a secular celebration. For others, it is a religious celebration. Getting into a quarrel over this is a waste of precious time. By the way, I recently discovered that I could assuage guilt re eggnog (due to cholesterol concerns) by just tipping a little in my coffee. I never consume more than two cartons of eggnog in a year, and it is at this time of year. What’s wrong with a little moderation? I do not overindulge! I will also have ham or bacon with eggs once for the year, and yes, it is at Christmastime.
A popular expression is, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’. We may amplify that by saying, ‘Love is the reason for the season’.
Then there is the reality of deep reflection on days gone by and loved ones who are no longer with us. There is the matter of holiday blues and feelings of loss, and even depression. Sadly, the COVID-19 era has harshly reminded us of the fragility of life. So many who have died only went before now because of COVID-19!
This is therefore a time of year that will recall, for many, some sad moments as they face their first or second or even third Christmas without a loved one who was lost to COVID-19. We would do well to beware of how we do the frivolous ‘Merry Christmas’, which may actually motivate some down feelings. Instead, let us see how we might live in love some more.
The hope, joy, peace, love and all those wonderful themes at this time of year, should invite us to live better with each other. Look out for someone who may be lonely, or even alone. Look out for a neighbour at work or in your community, who might just welcome an extra ‘Hello!’ and ‘Howdy!. You do not have to be wordy to give a ministry of presence. Just being present with someone for a few minutes can go a far way in extending some grace and love.
We should beware of only doing lip service to love; and seek instead to be love. Let those who wish to celebrate mass on Christ’s day do so. Let those who wish to not do so due to their religious perspectives or otherwise, also do their own thing.
Christmas as a liturgical season, however, calls us to reflect on deeper issues of peace and goodwill to all. I will leave with you Mary’s Magnificat as a prescription for celebration in faith. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in you O God, my Saviour.” Read Luke 1:46-56, verses 46-47 might make a lovely golden text to carry over the season. You know, just like how some people are carrying a particular country for World Cup. I present to you Mary’s song: In the midst of challenge, in the midst of want, in the midst of faith in God, she chose to keep on praising God, and trusting in God’s greatness and grace. The blessings of love be with you all.
Fr Sean Major-Campbell is an Anglican priest and advocate for human rights .