Written by Michael Huling
It appears that many of you enjoyed the piece I wrote for Thanksgiving. While I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read it and share some kind words, I must confess that I feel a little pressured to deliver an equally welcomed article for Christmas. The following is my attempt to do just that.
This has been a strange year, to say the least. It really feels like it flew by and the New Year being a week away only punctuates that feeling. For me, this Christmas feels a bit different. This is the first time my younger sister hasn’t been home for Christmas (she’s staying on the East Coast), and it’s my last Christmas living at home. I suppose it’s natural to feel a bit uneasy given these changes, and I only mention all of this as a premise for my broader point: I love Christmas.
I love Christmas for a multitude of reasons, including the religious origins, traditions, food, presents, [spiked] eggnog, NBA games, music, family, and general sense of happiness that fills the air. The last few days of panicked shopping are seemingly negated by the calm feeling of Christmas—although not entirely. I’m still having PTSD from the Walmart parking lot the other day, but that’s a story for another time. There’s just a special warmth that comes with Christmas that is distinct from any other day of the year. No matter what stress, angst, or other difficulties we’re currently facing, Christmas acts as a helping hand to lift us out of our misery.
There’s something romantic about the last week of the year with Christmas and the New Year. No matter how much the year has tested our resolve, Christmas gives us a chance to remember the good things we still have. The New Year provides a sense of liberation and opportunity—liberation from whatever failures or struggles held us back this year and the opportunity to use those hardships to overcome whatever challenges may arise in the coming year.
In some sense, Christmas and the New Year offer the introspection needed to envision what we could be if we got our act together. If we realized that we are often the greatest obstacle to reaching our own potential, we might finally be able to live the life we’ve imagined. Some of us already are, others are fighting to get there, and a few have given up all hope.
If you feel that your life is as good as it can be (you’re probably incorrect), then exhibit gratitude and share your good fortune with others who need a little help. If you’re on the right track to reaching your goals, appreciate the progress you’ve made and use the New Year as motivation to keep pushing forward.
If you’ve given up hope for a better life, the biggest mistake you could make is thinking that things can’t get any worse. It can always get worse—and if you don’t change something, it will. Conceptualize where you want to be, how you can get there, and what’s standing in your way. You’re stronger than you think, and that spirit inside of you knows that you can be better. Look for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in life, and you’ll see it in yourself. Friedrich Nietzsche said that “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Find your why and you’ve won half the battle. Your story isn’t over yet, and with a few tweaks, it could be just beginning. It may not mean much coming from me, but I believe in you, and you should too.
The Meaning of Christmas
To fully appreciate Christmas, it’s essential to understand how it began—with the birth of Christ. Andrew Klavan summarized the mysticism of Christ’s birth better than I can:
“For me, the birth of Christ — the incarnation of God’s Logos — the moment when the God we can’t see became visible and the God we can’t understand made Himself known — is like a spiritual atom bomb going off in history.”
The importance and influence of Christ can never be overstated. Even if you don’t believe in Christ, it’s impossible to dismiss the profound impact that Christianity has had on mankind for the last two thousand years.
If you’re a Christian, like me, then you see Christ as the Son of God who suffered for our sins so that we don’t have to. He wasn’t just some great moral teacher rambling about love and forgiveness—He’s our Savior. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:
“Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something much worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.”
Does Christmas Still Have Its Original Meaning?
Some suggest that the “true meaning” of Christmas has been hijacked and distorted. Whether it’s relentless consumerism or secularism, there’s a widespread belief that the meaning of Christmas has been eroded entirely. While I have my sympathies, I think this is a bit exaggerated.
It’s probably true that most people are more concerned with buying gifts and eating good food than they are with observing and celebrating the origins and purpose of Christmas. It’s also true that the subtle shift from “Merry Christmas” to ”Happy Holidays” and from “Christmas Break” to “Winter Break” indicates a growing secularism in our country that often slides into anti-religious sentiments that border on flagrant bigotry.
When it comes to the supposed capitalism run awry, I actually think there’s something metaphorically beautiful going on. We’re called to willingly give to others as doing so brings joy to them and to God.
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
-2 Corinthians 9:6-7
If we think Christmas is being “ruined” by our coming together with friends and family and expressing our love by exchanging gifts, then we’re misunderstanding what Christ taught.
While I think the “Happy Holidays” trope is overused and counterproductive, it mostly stems from an effort to be inclusive of those who may not celebrate Christmas. There’s something admirable about that, and I think Christ wouldn’t be so angry given how hard He tried to include the “outcasts” of society back in His day.
“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
But the reason I see “Happy Holidays” as counterproductive is that, to me, nothing is more inclusive than wanting to share your religious holiday—and our national holiday—with others who may not celebrate it or know much about it. Maybe I’m wrong on this, but being wished a Merry Christmas from a smiling stranger seems like less of a threat and more of a warm-hearted gesture of good will.
I was on the fence about whether to get into the biblical theology, but since I’ve already made a few references, allow me to make one more.
I think Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is one of the most incredible speeches ever given. Every time I read those chapters in the Book of Matthew (5-7), I get goosebumps. The eloquence and authority that Christ spoke with is simply extraordinary. The entire Sermon is exceptional, from the prophecies in the beginning to the commandments in the middle and the wisdom at the end. All of it is just so fascinating and humbling. I don’t know of a better place in scripture to demonstrate the divinity of Christ as the Son of God and Savior of man.