But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. – Luke 2:10-11 (NRSV)
“On this day”?
If we’re going to get technical, Christmas is just a day we celebrate Jesus’ birth. I don’t even like to call it Jesus’ birthday, since we all know that December 25 has 1 of 365 chances of being the actual day. And it’s not about a cake and candles (well, maybe Christmas is a little bit about candles) because it’s not so much celebrating a birthday as it is the miracle that God chose to be confined by humanity so that we wouldn’t be lost to it. Christmas has become so much a secular holiday, that I started referring to Advent and Christmas as the season of Incarnation a few years ago to differentiate it from what the world celebrates.
And so, when I reflect on “What is Christmas?” I’m not ignoring the whole reason Christmas actually is, but on what Christmas means. In a way, Christmas is like a wedding. What the wedding is, is entering a covenant relationship with another person before God. But when we think about a wedding, it’s bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, cakes, pictures, flowers, and the reception. A fraction of the planning, budget, and time is spent on the actual marriage part of a wedding.
I’m not suggesting we get rid of all of the traditions and celebrations that are part of the beginning of a marriage. I’m just pointing out that we have much more energy and emotion (and arguments) about everything else on that day than the few minutes where two people commit the rest of their lives to one another.
Even for us church folks, Christmas is really the same way.
Like wedding traditions, we all have Christmas traditions. Growing up, I remember being the one to put the Christmas lights on the tree. I remember tinsel (are you a single strand person or did you put it on in clumps?). I also remember asking Santa to come early because we would be out of town on Christmas. We had three “Christmases” each year: one at home and two others as we visited family different parts of Iowa. (Thank you to Casey’s for being open on Christmas Day, since we were often driving between grandparents’ houses.)
I texted my brother as I was writing this to see what he remembers of our Christmas traditions. At one grandparents, we always had a live nativity (no animals, just lots of cousins, I mean shepherds and angels). At the other grandparents, we played a lot of cards. These were also the grandparents who gave me a board game every Christmas – many of which I still have and my boys have enjoyed as well. There was also the year the weather was too bad to travel and so we stayed home. Mom said everyone could have whatever they wanted for supper on Christmas Eve – Dominos and Pizza Hut showed up at the same time in our driveway.
When I was in college, I celebrated four Christmases, adding Dave’s family as well. Eventually, we needed to give up all of that driving and settled on two – again driving on Christmas morning as we spent Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with Dave’s. This was our tradition for many years. Until Eldest turned two. That year, we began to protect about 18 hours for our new family to discover our own Christmas traditions. From about 4:00 pm Christmas Eve when we would have dinner or go to church until about 10:00 am on Christmas morning, our home was open to anyone who wanted to celebrate with us, but we no longer travelled.
What is Christmas?
Is it a specific day, a season, an event, a month of sales?
We try to pack a lot into about 18 hours. Some things must happen then – like a Christmas Eve service or midnight mass. If you have young kids, Santa probably comes on Christmas morning, which also means parents are up late on Christmas Eve to make all of that happen.
But if Christmas is also all of our traditions and time with family, then is the actual day so important?
I’ll let you chew on that one a bit because I have had to this year. Especially since December 3 when the college Bowl schedule was announced….