How the Fight for 'Merry Christmas' Reveals Just How Confused We Really Are
Creating and sending our family Christmas card is one of my favorite personal traditions this time of year. I've ordered from the same company since my husband first joined the Army in 2010. Our annual snail mail greeting is a festive way to document and share the evolution of our lives during this eventful military exile away from friends and family.
As I started browsing this year's design selections, I found myself stuck at the very first choice I needed to make. It's a tough one these days. The decision: Do I want to make a Christmas Card, or do I want to make a Holiday Card?
I lingered for a moment, wondering if I’ll choose to come across as more Christian or more correct (not just politically correct, but actually accurate). I don't know, I guess I'm just one of those weird people who likes to be both Christian and accurate, and I tend to find that the best means of doing so is not always the most obvious.
The period of time before Christmas Day, when most people are sending and receiving their seasons greetings, is not actually Christmastime. I think maybe we get confused because the decorations tend to be up already, but this season is Advent. Christians throughout the ages have spent these weeks spiritually and mentally preparing for Christ's coming—as a baby roughly 2,000 years ago, and at the end of all time, whenever that may be.
(And by the way, this is not an argument about when baby Jesus was actually born on the conventional calendar. We're talking about how His followers throughout the ages have commemorated His birth in the liturgical calendar, which tells a story, and is filled with all kinds of celebrations that may or may not correspond with historical dates.)
Christmas itself is not one day, but twelve days (sound familiar?). It starts on December 25, and continues until Epiphany on January 6, when we celebrate the visit of the Three Magi, and the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles. These twelve days are when “Merry Christmas” would be the correct greeting, but usually if you send your cards then, you're late. Most people done took down their trees. And if you say "Merry Christmas" to someone during actual Christmastime, they most likely just look at you like, "OMG, that is like so twelve days ago."
New Year's Day is actually a Holy Day for the Church. It’s the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. It makes sense to throw a party for the mother close to the baby's birth. I learned this so very well after having a baby myself. While I was so grateful for all of the cute baby clothes, toys, and equipment, I was also just wishing someone would buy me a massage. Amen?
And Santa Claus does exist! Or at least he’s a legend based on a real person, St. Nicholas, an amazing Christian who--among many fascinating things, like punching an Arian heretic in the face at the Council of Nicea--threw gold into a poor family's window in the middle of the night in order to keep the children from being sold into prostitution. But St. Nick is traditionally celebrated on December 6, during Advent, and not at Christmastime.
There are more Feast Days of the Church during this season, too. And Christians can even honor the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, since the events that inspired it are part of our spiritual history and heritage as well.
So many days dedicated to holiness! In fact, the word holiday itself means "holy day".
But of course, wishing someone Happy Holidays is not the Christian thing to do. Is it?
Yes, of course we want to keep Christ in Christmas, but while we’re at it, shouldn’t we keep Him in all of these other holy days as well? And better yet, in all of our days, period. I mean, we should at least know what time it is if we really want to be taken seriously, ya know?
In reality, we do not have the capacity to take Christ out of anything, except our own hearts. He is the very Word that speaks all things into existence. He is not fragile. He does not need us to defend Him. We are the ones who need Him to defend us. All we can do is either unite ourselves to Him in Communion, or be wishy-washy (and we know how He feels about luke-warmth), or remove ourselves from Him altogether. And when we choose either of the latter, it doesn’t matter what words we use to greet each other, or what our Starbucks coffee cups look like, or whether or not we are donning our gay apparel (don't even get me started on gay apparel). If we are not united to the very source of all life, there is no life in us. There is no genuine happiness or merriness to have, let alone, to extend to others.
But I do wish you merriness. And true happiness. Most of all, I wish you Christ in this season, and in all of them.