Why I’m sick of the Meaning of Christmas

Last year around this time I wrote my treatise on “celebrating Christmas“, finally articulating that I didn’t really care about the War on Christmas because it has long been lost, and we no longer celebrate a reality of salvation but we celebrate the celebration itself. And that’s fun, I guess.

But I’m starting to think there’s no such thing as the “war on Christmas”. First of all, no one forgets “the meaning of Christmas”. Everybody knows it’s about a cute baby being born by magic in a manger. With snow and sheep and a kid in a stocking cap like in my grandmother’s nativity. And babies are cute. And that’s nice, I guess.

Don't get me wrong, there's holiness here. But that's the subject of another post.

So I don’t care much about “the meaning of Christmas” because what EVERYONE has forgotten is the meaning of the Nativity, and the meaning of the Incarnation. Simply acknowledging that a holiday has a religious meaning is not the point. I often get the sense that the people who huff and puff about remembering the “meaning of Christmas” and making sure people say Christmas instead of “holidays” (although, as far as I can tell, New Years is also a holiday therefore at this time of year we celebrate “holidays) really just want us to feel like Christians are winning the culture war.

There is nothing less Christian than that. Although I am always hesitant to put words in Gods mouth, I am fairly certain that Jesus did not come to make us Christians and to make Christians win. He came “to proclaim liberty to captives,and recovery of sight to the blind,. to let the oppressed go free” perhaps even to “cast the mighty from their thrones and raise up the lowly”. When our institution of Christianity stops being the vehicle by which we live out Jesus’ mission as we wait for his return, it is a farce, an empty vessel with no hope of being filled.

Yes, Linus knows the true meaning of Christmas. But I hope when he reaches a higher stage of moral development he'll dig a little deeper.

Not that I ever have, but I won’t be telling anyone this year to think about “the meaning of Christmas”. If you want to keep a “religious holiday”, think about the meaning of the Incarnation, that God came into the world as a vulnerable person, lived a life of service, was executed for refusing to compromise his identity and his mission, and rose from the dead to conquer death forever.

Many people don’t want to keep a religious Christmas, and that’s not something I get worked into a lather about. Many non-believers keep very holy holidays. It’s the ones who scream about “keeping Christ in Christmas” but fail to keep him in their hearts who tire me.


Two notes: 1. I didn’t expect this to turn into quite so much a rant.

2. I had this written before I realized this was already written, and better, on Sojourners. Darn you, Jim Wallis!

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3 Responses to Why I’m sick of the Meaning of Christmas

  1. Danica says:

    How can you not rant? So much of this is tiresome. I like this: “It’s the ones who scream about “keeping Christ in Christmas” but fail to keep him in their hearts that tire me.”
    I am more secular humanist, but I know theology, and I certainly know hypocrisy, so your above statement certainly rings true. And to boot, as I keep telling people, “holidays” is plural for Christmas and New Year, and for me, it is also generic if I do not know someone’s religion. It is a wish of good will and happiness and warmth and light to say “Happy Holidays.” And furthermore, “holidays” comes from “holy days,” so one hardly blasphemes.
    When I was music director at a Unitarian Universalist church, one hymn spoke of “each night a child is born is a holy night.” Indeed. A lovely thought. Light. love, and life.
    Do I love to sing all the traditional Christmas carols, and do I find meaning in the Christian words? Absolutely.
    I have not yet had time to read the other article you mentioned, but yours is beautifully written.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

  2. Oh, yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. Thinking about it this way is such a different vantage point and yet, it makes all the difference. I truly love your insights, Margaret!

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