As a Catholic from Germany, I love the American party version of Christmas, of sipping eggnog and "dancing around a tree" to cheerful, happy holiday songs in green and red velvet holiday attire. But is that all that's left in our culture of Christmas? If Santa is the only reminder of a deeper religious meaning of Christmas, Christmas warriors don't have much of a case.
Some have attempted to rescue both Santa and Christmas from secular misinterpretations while playing along with their cultural manifestations. The argument goes that Santa stands for generosity and family closeness and celebrates the wonder of childhood by making children the focus of attention. This, Santa defenders would argue, maintains the link to the "real" Christmas. But, by propping up the myth, Christmas warriors have lost more than they have gained, as Santa is more guilty of taking the mystery out of the Christmas than anyone.
The so-called "Christmas truce" of 1914 reminds us of a deeper, more universal meaning of Christmas. On Christmas day in 1914, five months after the outbreak of World War I, about 100,000 German, French, and British soldiers laid down arms and emerged from their trenches to exchange gifts across enemy lines and bury their dead. Most accounts agree that this legendary truce began with the singing of carols such as "Adeste Fideles" and "Silent Night." The spontaneous fraternization that took place on that day bore witness to a recognition of a shared humanity and a longing to remain hopeful through the celebration of a common joy, the celebration of hope and light emerging with the birth of Christ. It is unlikely that tunes of "Jingle Bells" or "Rockin' around the Christmas Tree" would have inspired similar fraternization in the midst of trench warfare. Surely, defenders of Christmas must keep in mind the true meaning of Christmas before battling to defend Christmas just for the sake of saving Christmas.
According to scholarly consensus, the Church chose to celebrate the nativity on Dec. 25 to rival and top popular pagan festivities such as Roman Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice, celebrating the end of darkness and the return of light, on the same date. Yet, the Christmas story is much older than even that. The pattern of the virgin birth and a savior being born goes back to ancient myths of Egypt, Babylon, and Mesopotamia. In fact, the story of hope and salvation is a universal theme that has meaning beyond the Christian story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The longing for hope and salvation has run deep within humanity since the beginning of history. It is a longing that transcends the concerns of our time and that finds answers in deep personal reflection and the powerful simplicity of the real Christmas story, not the jingle and cheer of the modern Christmas cocktail party or shopping desperation.
If everybody could pause, turn off the cheery tunes, dim the lights, and settle down, we might all embrace the Christmas season as an opportunity to reflect on themes that run deeper than Santa's beard. What the Christmas season means as a symbol to all is that we long for meaning and that we long for hope and ultimate salvation, in our messy, difficult world. We all long for answers and a sense of purpose and belonging. Coming together with our families for Christmas and exchanging gifts are important elements of Christmas celebration. Yet beyond the specifics of our own Christmas traditions and the omnipresent Santa, there looms the larger question of meaning in life. Reflecting more deeply, we might come to realize that family and friends are important not only at Christmas time, but always. Love, manifested in family connections and deep friendships, gives meaning beyond the Christmas tree, just like the legends and stories of a savior being born reflect any human's longing for greater meaning and hope. To a Christian, the gifts that Christ bears for humanity don't come through the chimney, but are discernible all around, each moment of every day of the year. Christ might not be everyone's answer, but he points the way to what hope personified might look like – a baby in a humble manger born to challenge the world. Once we discover the true revolution that Christ brought to this world with his message of hope, the jingle of American Christmas might more readily be exchanged for the triumphant sounds of real bells that proclaim the birth of a savior.
Posted with permission from New Boston Post.