Holiday Traditions

“It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” or so goes the famous song about Christmas. For me I wonder, “Is it really? Why?” Why do we do the things we do and where did it all begin? What does it have to do with the reason Christians celebrate Christmas? How do other countries celebrate Christmas and how did they develop their traditions? There are some really deep issues involved here and I certainly don’t have the answers, but an article in Christianity Today was an eye opening read. Who knew the Puritans outlawed the celebration of Christmas and that Alabama was the first state to make it legal again? Shocking!

The article discusses Christmas in America and how it came to be; more importantly for Christians, how our current celebration of Christmas is completely separate from the truth and gritty details of what it must have really been like when Jesus was born. The conclusion was (and I was relieved) that there is nothing wrong with enjoying an American Christmas celebration as long as believers understand that how we celebrate is completely separate from the reality of what we celebrate.

This weekend, while driving to Tyler, hubby and I were discussing how many of his Muslim customers “celebrate” Christmas. They have the decorations, presents, and enjoy the spirit of the season.

For these as well as secular folks, participating in the American celebration does not have to conflict with their own religion. In a way, it could be concluded that the American Christmas is the ultimate in inclusivity – traditions are drawn from many cultures, countries, and beliefs. We can, and should, include everyone and save what is uniquely personal to us for our private celebration, or celebration within our faith families.

I understand this will be a hard pill to swallow for folks on both sides of the Christian debate. Those who a deeply opposed and fight against any reference to Jesus as well as the devout Christians. But bear with me; don’t stop reading just yet.

I took a good hard look at how I celebrate Christmas and came to the conclusion that, despite my faith and my collection of Nativity scenes, there doesn’t appear to be anything that sets me apart from a secular person’s Christmas. At least nothing is externally obvious. I love the decorations, the movies, the food, the family time, and the overall sense of “Peace on Earth Goodwill Towards Man.” I don’t want to give that up just to appear more authentic in my faith. Plus, I come from a very secular family – do I force my beliefs on them or not participate in family gatherings to be authentic? That is hardly the Christ-like example I want to set.

No, I believe there is an answer that is really quite simple. From Thanksgiving through December 25th I will celebrate a very merry public Christmas – decorations, saying Merry Christmas, being charitable, and worship privately as I prepare my heart for the birth of the Christ Child.

Next begins the season of Ephiphany.

The Magi’s journey will become my journey. My mind reels with all that they must have felt and thought during those six days. What will I learn and hear as I draw closer to God? I can’t wait. This will be my sacred time.

Jesus is the reason for the season. Without his birth we would not be having this conversation. Jesus was also a Jew. Jewish history is Jesus’ history and I love learning about the Jewish faith traditions. I think it would do all people of faith good to study other religions.

Like it or not pagan traditions came from other countries as immigrants came here and made America their home. Granted, it was much easier for our Christian celebration to be universal within our community when our communities were more homogeneous. That is not the world we live in. That is not the world I want to live in. The challenge to believers is to love and accept as Jesus did, feel free to say Merry Christmas without worry of offending someone.

Nonbelievers and secular folks, just embrace all that is non-religious about an American Christmas and let the rest go. Saying Merry Christmas to you isn’t intended to force our belief system on you. We aren’t trying to tell you to believe as we do, rather our faith should be visible in the lives we lead and the mercy we show. We are loved and forgiven thus free to extend the same to those around us.

Imagine if we all lived by the simple little rule: “Treat others as you want them to treat you” what a wonderful world this would be.

Until tomorrow…Merry Christmas!