I feel that Christmas is more of a cultural celebration than a religious one in our country, and I wonder how we Christians are to deal with that?
Clearly, Christians in our nation face the celebration of Christmas as two realities—the secular occasion and the religious celebration. We tend to think of this as something rather new to our time, but it is not.
Among many in the Christian Reformist (Protestant) tradition of the 16th century, Christmas was not celebrated. This seems to have been a reaction to the secular observance of Christmas, which included general misuse of alcohol and days of unbridled excess. Many of the people who came to North America during that time brought with them a clear aversion to Christmas. In the New England colonies, it was against the law to celebrate it. That certainly was an overreaction to the way some people celebrated the holiday.
In the liturgical life of the Church, Christmas is known as the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. It has its own season of liturgical celebration. During that time, the Church celebrates the great joy that the Savior is born in our midst.
We tend to see Christmas as a snapshot of a moment in time – the Baby lying in the manger. Perhaps a more profound description is found in the word “Incarnation.” It is central to the meaning of Christmas, for it is the presence of the Divine in our lives.
At the core of our faith is the belief that our God is not distant, abstract or unaffected by our prayer or our plight. Far from being a theoretical construct, the mystery of the Incarnation affirms that the Divine not only wants to be a part of our lives, but actually became so and remains so in the presence of Jesus Christ.
That reality means that, for disciples of Jesus, the celebration of Christmas is hardly optional. The Nativity of Jesus is the beginning of our salvation. It not only began then—it continues and makes all the difference in our lives every single day.
However, that is how we see it as Christians. We can hardly expect every other person to see it in the same way. Most of us do not celebrate Chanukah, but that does not stop Jewish people from doing so. The point is that our celebration of Christmas is faith-based, an expression of our Christian faith.
If other people choose to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, we cannot afford to spend our time brooding on what they do. Rather, we must focus on what we do.
No one is forcing us to immerse ourselves or our families into a commercialized, secular Christmas. We are not likely going to change the way some people celebrate Christmas, but we cannot allow them to change the way we celebrate it.