PART I: WHY I DISLIKE THE CHRISTMAS SEASON
Christmastime is commonly said to be “the most wonderful time of the year.”
No, this post is not a joke. You may not agree with my skepticism, but please read on and see my reasons. Some of what I have to say may be valid.
Mainly, I have three reasons to dislike the Christmas season.
#1: Intensified consumerism
This is probably the most obvious reason. We spend more this time of year than any other. By a lot.
You’ve probably heard this statistic before, but it bears repeating: The current American population is about 300 million. In America, every year this season, roughly $450 billion is spent on gifts.
The estimated cost for making clean water available worldwide is $10 billion.
People die every day from lack of clean water, more than any other cause today. Meanwhile, we shop like asylum inmates for presents that are often forgotten within weeks, if not days, once the holiday has passed us by.
How many meaningless, useless, over-extravagant, and even destructive gifts are given each year? How much of that money could go towards healing the broken and needy, instead of overburdening the already over-prosperous?
More than any other time of year, during the Christmas season children are taught the lie that they have a right to get what they want. That getting what they want will make them happy. That the only way to get what they want is to plead, whine, beg, hint, write lists, and drive their parents to buy more and more, bigger and better, more extravagant and more expensive toys, with the coming of the holidays each year.
I could go on. I’d rather not.
#2: Intensified stress
This is also pretty obvious, and directly linked to the first. How many people find themselves rushing around like madmen for the best prices, deals, gifts and whatnot at the speed of credit card debt because they have to get the right presents for the right people before O Holy Night hits? And what if the gift isn’t just right? What if they don’t like it? If shipping is late? If the stores are out of stock? If the bow comes off? If they end up giving me a bigger present than I got for them?
The money component links directly too. How much stress today is directly caused by finances? And how much more does money change hands this time of year than usual? Rivaled only by Black Friday I’d say.
Then there’s the traveling, the shipping, the packaging, the decorating, the house-cleaning, the concerts, the recitals, the parties, the candle-light services, and a thousand other goings-ons. How are people supposed to have a silent night to reflect on why they’re celebrating when they’re ever forced to keep dashing through the snow to the next event of the season?
We have enough stress to deal with throughout the year already. And now this?
#3: Christmas music
My first two reasons were broad, applying to most, if not all, of the United States (and perhaps other countries as well, though I can’t speak for them). This last reason is more… personal.
First, on a more trivial note, why must the radio start playing nothing but Christmas music 24/7 before the Thanksgiving turkey has even grown cold? Why must every band in existence try to put its own, clever twist on a Christmas classic, and 7 times out of 10, create a monstrosity not remotely true to the original? Why must it always be the same songs, to be played over, and over, and over again?
That’s just me complaining. On a more serious note: Why does Christmas music have to be so… familiar?
Year round, I struggle with truly worshiping. Finding meaning in the words of the songs I sing every Sunday morning, and truly believing them. Truly meaning them when I sing them. The more familiar the song is to me, the harder it is.
And now, we have Christmas music. The most oft heard and repeated, familiar music to me in the world it seems. I’ve heard it so many times… Most of it is so beautiful, so rich in meaning. And I let it blow past me like wind through the dead branches of a tree. Meaningless.
Where does Christmastime leave me then?
PART II: HE CAME
Those are my three reasons for disliking the Christmas season. I don’t always feel this way. But when they come upon me, Christmas loses all of its warmth, all of its joy. And I wonder sometimes if it’s worth celebrating.
And yet… I know it is. Why?
First of all, I do have reasons to still like Christmas.
Let’s look at those first.
#1: Family and friends together
Yes, this is a completely “secular” reason, but a valid and important one. This has become especially more meaningful to me this year, since I have so many more friends who went off to college last year, and are now back, just for the season. I think it’ll mean even more to me next year, when I myself am gone…
Not every get-together over the Christmas season is meaningful, pleasant, or easy for many people. And there are many who find Christmas a difficult time because of family members or close friends who are no longer around to celebrate together…
But why is it difficult for them? Because when their loved ones were with them, the traditions and experiences they shared were valuable. Christmastime is a unique opportunity to come together, to relive old traditions and memories and make new ones. Granted, not all traditions and memories are worth reliving. But the ones that are can become unspeakably precious.
The coming together of family and friends, especially over long distances and between busy schedules, is a truly priceless blessing of Christmas.
#2: Giving magnified
When Christmas comes, spending and shopping goes up. But so does giving.
Many meaningless, useless, and worthless gifts are given each year this season. But so are many meaningful, useful, and priceless ones.
And I’m not just referring to the people who actually take the selfless time and effort to pick out gifts for their friends and family that they know will be found truly enjoyable, useful, and valuable. I also mean programs put together by churches and organizations (like Gospel for Asia) to care for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the needy, the cast-out. Many of these places and organizations work year round, but without a doubt, they receive the most support when it’s Christmas. People come together like no other time throughout the year to help complete strangers… simply because it’s Christmas. People give when they otherwise wouldn’t have at Christmastime.
People don’t always give with the right motives during Christmastime, or any other time of the year. But God can use us even when our hearts aren’t in the right place (thank goodness He can and does!). And during the Christmas season, more people are fed, clothed, blessed, and shown tangible love in the name of Christ, because more people decide to give.
That has value.
#3: The true meaning of Christmas
The final, foremost, and only true reason to celebrate Christmas is only this: He came. The long-awaited Messiah, the Christ-child, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the eternal Word who created the heavens and the earth and all else that is, came in the flesh as a mere baby all those years ago.
We celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but the day doesn’t matter. Why does it matter what day Jesus was born? The important thing is that He came! That is why this is a holiday (aka “holy day”). That is why we celebrate.
If you look through my reasons for disliking the Christmas season, you can see a common thread running through them. Yes, they all have something to do with when good things in excess become unhealthy and harmful (as all good things do without moderation). But in an even broader sense: they all have to do with the true meaning of Christmas being lost. When shopping and wrapping gifts, when stress and the business of busyness become the focus instead of the Christ child. When familiarity breeds contempt, hearts grow cold from the passing of time, and the reality of Christmas is forgotten.
But our King came to remedy these very things. He came as the remedy for these very things. In our materialism and trust in the temporal, He came as the Bread of Life who satisfies, who will endure forever. In our stress and anxiety, He came as the Prince of Peace, the Joy of our existence. In the dullness and darkness of our hearts, He came as the One who opens our eyes and lights our hearts on fire once more.
I think in particular of my third point, concerning Christmas music. God has opened my eyes in new ways this year in this area. Even in my dullness and indolence, His light can shine through, and a song that I’ve heard a million times can have meaning.
(I believe that my last post, concerning angels, bears testimony to that; it is only by the work of the Spirit that that understanding, or any understanding ever for that matter, came.)
Our Lord Jesus came to us in all of our brokenness. And He came as the answer that we needed. He came to testify to the truth where we had given in to lies. He came to bring us joy where we had vainly sought after an earthly happiness, to bring us peace where the cares and worries of this life had left us in turmoil, to bring light where we had fallen into darkness, warmth where we had grown cold, healing where we had become diseased, life when we were dead. He came as the salvation in our distress. He came to bring glory to the Father in a world that had forgotten its Maker. He came to make all things right, including the ways that we’ve forgotten to celebrate the true reason for Christmas.
He came. And that’s reason enough to celebrate.
Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas, full of remembrance and joy for the One whom we celebrate,
P.S. I’m still skeptical of the claim that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.” But undoubtedly, it is a reminder to us that as believers, we can declare year round with confidence, that it’s “a wonderful life” at least. =)