What is it about holidays that makes us switch our lives out of “normal” mode? It’s as though we launch ourselves into a kind of alternate reality where we change our décor, our food choices, even our clothing, depending on the holiday we’re facing. Around the fourth of July, out comes the red, white, and blue, along with watermelon, hot dogs, and a bazillion rolls of paper towels. Come Halloween, every Wal-mart in the nation will explode with variations on a theme of black and orange and too much chocolate. Thanksgiving bring turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and bulky sweaters.
But of all the holidays, none so dominates and alters our lives the way Christmas does. And every year, I find myself wondering why.
I know full well why Christmas is such a big deal to me and my family. We’re Christians, and we celebrate Christmas as a way of remembering how the almighty Son of God came to earth as a helpless human child, knowing that His purpose in life was to die. More than just a “good man” or a prophet, He was sinless and perfect deity in human form, and thirty years after the first Christmas, He’d give Himself up to die and carry the wickedness of all mankind on His spotless soul. The first Christmas gift was God Himself; a gift to humanity. And so we carry on the tradition of giving, albeit imperfectly, because we remember the priceless Gift we have been given.
Unfortunately, there are very few anymore who celebrate Christmas for those reasons. Over half of the traditions we observe around this time of year were pulled from pagan tradition, including the very day Christmas is celebrated. In addition to the stable and the manger, we’ve thrown on Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, cookies, penguins, red, white, green, peppermint, holly, blue spruces, lights, candles, bells, and almost as many secular songs as there are about romance. Not to say that I frown on those symbols or wish to eliminate them; I enjoy them. I look forward to them every year, even though I know that those things have nothing to do with Christmas’s origin.
But I wonder how a holy day that has snowballed into such a secular phenomenon can still have emotional meaning for, let’s admit it, most of the western world. Christmas gets special treatment that other holidays have never received. Ever hear of a Thanksgiving TV special (and no, football doesn’t count)? Why don’t we rally groups of teenagers to go door-to-door Easter caroling? Despite what the Linuses of the world want to believe, there is no Great Pumpkin who delivers toys to all the good little children on Halloween. Of all the holidays, there is only one that is designated its own special “season” and garners so much global recognition. While some protest Christmas as a merely an overblown advertising gimmick, one wonders what it is about Christmas that makes retailers want to capitalize on it. Even those who refuse to acknowledge the existence of God or that He ever had a Son still get sentimental about Christmastime. And even those who want to replace “Merry Christmas” with a non-committal “Happy Holidays,” “Seasons Greetings, or “Have a joyous Winter Solstice”, in their very attempt to smear the name of Christ from this time of year, are only acknowledging it as distinctive and blessed enough to have its own unique greeting.
So, dear readers, why? What is it about Christmas that makes us open our shut-up hearts, if only a crack, to let a little warmth and love and hope thaw the accumulated ice on our souls? Even then, why do so in winter, when most of the northern hemisphere is chilled to the bone and grumbling about shoveling the driveway? Why is it in winter that we choose to shrug off our adult vices in exchange for childish innocence, wishes, and dreams? Why is it now that we gather with our families, send cards, and let a little love into our lives?
Perhaps that’s the answer. Try as you might, you can’t shy away from the fact that Christmas, with all its associated hodge podge of secular traditions and tomfoolery, began with an act of divine Love. No one else but a loving God would send His only Son to an unloving world in the hopes of saving it. It was love that sent Christ to earth, it was love that let Him die there, and it is love that lets the foulest of people—myself included—beg for and receive forgiveness from an all-just and all-holy God.
We live in a broken world. A world of seven billion people all searching for acceptance, hope, joy, peace, and, above all else, love. What Christmas offers the world is a brief season of love; the love that the world is starved for during the rest of the long year. This love is addicting, alluring, yet childishly pure. And all of us, even the people who think they’re too grown-up for God or anything they can’t see, are irresistibly drawn to this spirit, this season, of love.
For this same reason, Christmas will never be put on the shelf by the politically correct powers-that-be. Love is stronger than popular opinion. And God’s love is stronger than the wisest of men could ever imagine.
So what is it about Christmas that makes it as distinct in our minds and hearts as it is? The answer is, and always will be, love.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. –John 3:16, The Bible