This Christian’s New Look at an American Holiday
Like many, our family has struggled with how to take on the holiday season. As Christians, it can be hard to address the seeming incompatibility of modern Christmas demands (home decorating, Christmas parties, traveling, families meals, teacher appreciation, baking, donations and, of course, the biggest one of all - gift giving) and our heart's desire to celebrate the birth of our KING.
Did you know the Christmas season, as we now know it, was started in New York in the late 18th century and was the first global holiday? I have always thought of Christmas as a 2,000-year-old Christian holy day. But, in fact, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist churches refused to celebrate on December 25th until the mid-twentieth century.
Clement Clarke Moore was a professor of ancient languages at the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in Manhattan and an ordained clergyman. However, before he achieved his scholarly acclaim, in 1823 he wrote a poem for his children named, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” now known as “The Night Before Christmas.” In this poem, he combined traditions from the Dutch, Catholics, Greek, and Protestant traditions to tell a fun, fantasy-filled story. Washington Irving, a founder of the New-York Historical Society, author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat, recognized the potential of Moore’s “Christmas” holiday as a force capable of uniting the northern and southern colonies, old family Knickerbockers and new Irish and German immigrants, and upper and lower social. He understood that a new country without common language or traditions needed a mid-winter unifying tradition to pull communities together. He was right, the holiday not only transcended all social classes and united all New Yorkers and Americans, but transcended all religions as well. Even the most militant Presbyterian, Methodist, Puritan or Baptist could celebrate the holiday.
So why am I telling you all this?
Well, I hope the information will free you as much as it did me. I can now see Christmas in much the same way I look at the 4th of July, Thanksgiving or any other traditionally “American” holiday. It’s fun, brings families together, reminds us to care for and honor our neighbors across the street and around the world, and brings joy into the coldest season of the year (well at least in the northern hemisphere). All of these things are entirely compatible with our Christian faith.
As a result of my new found understanding, I am going to give Christmas back to the United States, and its warm, caring, generous and somewhat capitalistic culture. How will I do this?
I will stop celebrating the birth of our Savior one day a year and begin celebrating it everyday.
I will take off my "Keep Christ in Christmas" bumper sticker and remind myself to keep Christ in my heart and actions.
I will take time to remember the real birth story of Jesus. You know, the one without snow, doesn't involve donkeys or wise men, and probably happened in September.
I will enjoy the Christmas season in much the same way I do the rest of our country’s traditional holidays. Doing the bare minimum in decorating and cooking while enjoying the foods of the season, caring for my neighbors and enjoying my family.
I will incorporate Christian-based Christmas traditions I enjoy, like nightly advent readings with candle lighting and our church's Christmas eve service at Anhalt Hall.
We will buy or make gifts that have real meaning. (Amazon won’t see as much action from me this year, even if it costs me $50 more in shipping). I am pretty sure that is what happened in the US before Woolworths, Coke and Macy’s got involved.
Will you join me in remembering that Christmas is simply a holiday, not a sacred Christian holy day? This means we can stop fighting over what is on the disposable cup of our favorite coffee shop or what the cashier says to us as a holiday greeting. By giving Christmas back we can just enjoy it as the American tradition and global holiday it has become.
If you are looking for ways to give your family meaningful gifts, check out a one of my favorite ministries, World Vision, or purchase your gifts from a company that gives back.