We all love Christmas! We unabashedly love the lights, music, peace & goodwill message, trees, and gifts. It’s a holiday wrapped up (pun intended) in family, tradition, good feelings, and generosity. What’s not to love? But many Christians have a faint (or not-so-faint) sense of guilt. This holiday celebrates Jesus’ birth (right?) and while the non-Christian can just ignore that, we can’t. What makes us uncomfortable (and it should!) is that Jesus gets crowded out of our Christmases in many ways.
Let’s deal with that guilt, shall we? The Christmas we celebrate today is really about many things other than Christ’s birth.
In the middle of the 17th century, the Puritans of New England banned the Christmas celebration. It became illegal to exchange gifts and greetings, dress in fine clothing, feast and “similar Satanical practices” in the celebration of the holiday.
Christmastime had become something like an out-of-control public frat party. They also felt that it was in opposition to worshipping only as the Bible explicitly commanded. In the mid-1800s, Alabama was the first state to declare the celebration of Christmas legal. Way to go, Alabama! I’d make some sort of “Roll Christmas-tide” joke here, but my Tennessee sensibilities just won’t let me.
Several years later, as Queen Victoria became the leader of her nation, she chose to re-model Christmas into a family-centered celebration complete with Christmas trees. As she influenced England, so England influenced the world. Before this, Christmas had been largely a public, community affair. This was the first step evolving into what we know as the home and child-centered holiday Christmas has become today.
The poem The Night Before Christmas and the novella A Christmas Carol were published in the early to mid-1800s, became extremely popular, and led to a cultural love affair with a non-Christ-centered approach to the holiday. Dicken’s “Spirit of Christmas” became hugely influential in shaping the goodwill nature of our celebrations.
Finally, painters, storytellers, and illustrators remade Saint Nickolas, patron saint of New York City, into the Santa Claus we know today. In the early 1800s Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra was a typical saint. But, as depictions changed, he was seen in a horse-drawn wagon flying over rooftops and slipping down chimney’s to share gifts. Elves, the North Pole, and a toy workshop were added to his story over the years.
In the early 1900s, Coca Cola commissioned Haddon Sundblom to create an illustration each year of Santa Claus with a Coke. These images defined Santa for over 30 years and spread the image of Santa across the world. In a Christianity Today article, W. David O. Taylor quoted Gerry Bowler, saying “in his book Santa Claus: A Biography, “The overwhelming ubiquity of these advertisements … ensured that no rival version of Santa could emerge in the North American consciousness.” In 1930 Montgomery Ward’s advertising folks dreamed up Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and he became an inseparable Santa sidekick.
That’s a lot of complicated history to Christmas in America and I’m just skimming over the surface details. I tell this to you for one very specific reason. The church has had very little to do with defining the celebration of Christmas as we know it today in America.
The church’s abandonment of the celebration of Christmas in the 1700s left the field wide open for governments, families, the arts, and commercial interests to define the holiday. Simply adding a nativity to your mantle, putting a cross ornament on your tree or a blow-up manger scene in your yard is not going to rescue Christmas for Christ.
Keeping Christ in Christmas
What then, can we do? As Christians, how are we to respond to the culture we find ourselves in? We could choose to not celebrate Christmas at all. I have a friend who has made that choice and I truly respect it. But, there’s also nothing wrong with enjoying the beautiful things about the holiday. There is much good to be found in our Christmas, but also much we can sift out.
Most articles you’ll find about “keeping Christ in Christmas” are lists of activities to remind us of Jesus’ birth. That’s admirable, but I’m not writing that column today. Instead, here are five suggestions I would share.
Make worship part of your season.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. (Romans 12:1)
More than simply attending church for the Christmas service, make worship the focus of your daily life. You were created to give God glory. How do you do that on a typical Tuesday? How do you do it as you buy gifts, bake cookies, or decorate your Christmas tree? How is your walking around life holy and pleasing to God?
Make God’s Word part of your season.
Your word is a lamp for my feet
and a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)
I will meditate on your precepts
and think about your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:15-16)
God’s Word is a critically important way to hear from God, learn of God, know what God wants of you, and shape your life according to his instruction and love. If you need an easy way to create a habit of daily time with God in worship, his Word, and prayer, I’d love to serve you within the SoulShapers subscription.
Make service part of your season.
For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. (Galatians 5:13)
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
It’s become quite popular to participate in random acts of kindness throughout the holiday season and I know that doing so in an intentional way helped me teach my son that giving was more important than getting. Random kind acts are a good way of sharing goodwill with our neighbors and community. But, serving should be a deeper commitment, an intentional way of life for a believer. What better way to honor Christ this season than to give your life away (metaphorically) in service?
Make community part of your season.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
We’re made for community, for relationship. While the culture puts an emphasis on family and togetherness during the holidays, we often see that as simply getting together for a meal and gifts. How can you honor, celebrate, and experience authentic community this season?
Make prayer part of your season.
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)
If you want a holiday season with more Christ, spend time investing in that relationship. Talk with him, share your day with him, talk about your struggles and your joys. Listen. Love. Just as you would invest in any other relationship, invest time and attention in your relationship with God.
These aren’t sexy, tinsel-tossed ideas. They aren’t fancy or new. Because, if you choose to celebrate Jesus’ birth at this time each year, how you keep Christ in your December is really no different than how you keep him at the center of your life January through November. If you want a peaceful, holy season, you need to live a peace-filled, holy life. I realize it’s much easier to think of your spiritual life as an advent to-do list at this time of year, but if you want your relationship with Christ not to be buried under the weight of gift budgets, cookie-baking ingredients, and manger scenes, you need to prioritize the person of Christ in your life over the activities of Christmas.
P.S. If you’d like to have a Christmas that honors Christ and serves your family without leaving you overwhelmed and exhausted, sign up for my free 5-day mini-course: 5 Steps to a Stress-Free Christmas