I’ve been unpacking Christmas decorations. The boxes of ornaments hold many treasures. There are the little drummer boys that my mother made with Sara and Erin about thirty years ago. There’s the ornament Larry gave me the year we got married. There are fragile glass decorations and precious works of art that say, “best Nana ever”. There are gifts from friends and special pieces Mom gave me before she died. Some of the ornaments are many decades old; others are gifts given in love just a year ago. Each piece brings to mind a memory, a story of love, a vision from a Christmas past.
As a child, I was raised with the gift of going to church every Sunday. The Christmas season was a time of religiosity, celebration and presents. I did not grow up in a home of privilege but at Christmas you wouldn’t know that. Mom went into overdrive for Christmas and pulled it off beautifully. When I became a mother, almost forty years ago, I kept up many of the traditions I learned from her. I don’t make “Bea’s Christmas Punch”, and I’ve never successfully pulled off her kiffle recipe, but a lot of “what Christmas is to me” is what she and Dad modeled for me.
I’ve been unpacking the Christmas story too. For many years, one of the things that I never gave a second thought to was the birth date of Jesus of Nazareth. It turns out that many religious scholars are confident that Jesus Christ, son of a carpenter named Joseph and a virgin named Mary wasn’t actually born on December 25th. There are a bunch of reasons why they suggest that isn’t the correct date: shepherds were likely not in the fields watching over their sheep in December, Mary and Joseph had gone to Bethlehem for a census which wouldn’t have taken place when roads were potentially icy and, based on the date of the birth of John the Baptist, and what scripture tells about their ages, Jesus was likely born in September.
The general consensus, among these learned folks, is that the Roman Catholic Church chose December 25 because it was shortly after the winter solstice, and pagans celebrated that date as the “birthday of the sun”. Changing the day from a “pagan” holiday to a “holy day” made sense. There are also questions about when the “wise men bearing gifts” actually showed up and where Jesus’ parents actually took shelter, but for those of us who believe that He is the Son of God, the story isn’t so much about the details as it is about the reality.
Anyway, back to the unpacking….
When did Christmas become mostly about
Santa and elves and reindeer and,
When did Christmas become less about Christ?
Even Santa Claus had a humble beginning. St. Nicholas was a third-century, Turkish monk who gave away all he had to help the poor. The birthday of Sinterklass (“Santa Claus”) short for Sint Nikolass, on December 6th was celebrated to recognize the man who had been known as a protector of children. One year, in celebration of his birthday, an artist drew a sketch of Nikolass carrying stockings filled with small toys, and by the early 1800’s stores started advertising Christmas shopping with the now popularized “Santa Claus” front and center. Clement Clarke Moore, interestingly an Episcopal minister, wrote “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”, now commonly called “’Twas The Night Before Christmas”. Then, in 1881, Thomas Nast a cartoonist took Moore’s poem and drew what we now recognize as Santa Claus. Obviously, the birth of Jesus wasn’t always linked with Santa Claus!
It can be easy to get caught up in the commercial aspect and lose the true meaning of the season. People are exhausted, overwhelmed, frustrated and often broke. After Christmas, many parents are explaining to their children why Santa brought their friends more (cooler, costlier, harder to get, BETTER) presents than they received! Wow. Sad, right?
When you unpack your Christmas decorations, does it bring joy into your life or is it simply one more thing you “have to get done”?
What do you feel with each Christmas preparation you make?
Are you buying gifts out of genuine joy, or are you simply checking off a list (maybe twice) to make sure that you have something (no matter what) for everyone?
Is the giving motivated by the season or by the expectations previously set?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a Christmas that celebrates the birth of Christ and love for each other in the same event.
In fact, that seems appropriate.
It’s only when we unpack the STUFF, but not the story, that we lose sight of what’s really important.
When I was a child, we always went to Christmas Eve Mass. In 1966, there was an intense snowstorm that started on December 24th, and that year my Dad was to be singing at the service. The snow was coming down hard and piling up fast. As we stood around the Christmas tree, it became apparent that there was no way we would be able to drive to church. Dad decided that it would be safer for us to stay at home but that, in spite of the blizzard conditions, he would WALK to church and be there to sing for anyone who could make it. What an impression that made on an almost nine-year-old girl. Amen to a man who always knew what truly mattered in life. Now, that’s a Christmas story that should be unpacked every year!
In 2016, when I again “Unpack Christmas” there will be more memories in those boxes, another year of living and adapting and, God willing, growing into intentional and peaceful living.
This year, as always, we will repeat a tradition that my parents handed down to me. On Christmas Eve, after we go to church, we’ll come home and have a “Birthday Cake for Baby Jesus”. Larry will read “The Christmas Story according to the Luke”, and we’ll sing “happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday Baby Jesus, happy birthday to you”. Then, our grandchildren, Lauren and Ethan, will blow out the candles. After the “birthday party”, they’ll put on their pajamas and go to bed to wait for Santa. There’s balance between the secular traditions and the “real reason for the season” and, in that balance, there’s joy.
I pray that I never forget to unpack the true meaning of Christmas. I pray, too, that these last ten days before Christmas Eve are filled with awe and splendor and peace for you.
©2015 Peace Full Home/Intentional Living
p.s. from “The Checklist from Z to A”: #39. Don’t take yourself too seriously; laugh at yourself and permit yourself to “be only human”.