Christmas: Merging 'ho-ho-ho' and holy

December 6, 2012 | 11 a.m.

Christians should celebrate the birth, but not reject the secular customs

Views | Matt Kelley

Christmas: Merging 'ho-ho-ho' and holy

Christians aren't necessarily called to reject secular customs, Kelley argues.

Welcome to “Battleground: Christmas.” Sure, everyone appears to be smiling, full of cheer and egg nog. But peel back a layer and you’ll see a belligerent brand of Christians around this time of year: Christmas crusaders.

Let’s take a step back, though. Our parents and grandparents grew up in an age when Christmas was mostly a religious holiday. As hard as it is to believe, there was a time when the Nativity scene was as important as the tree or the presents beneath it – when the days of iCal were far away and Advent was the most important calendar.

This era is often glorified as the “golden age” of Christmas, when it “really meant something.” Old-timers view the money-grabbing parade of delusional holiday spirit that flows nowadays and they shake their heads. And Christmas crusaders sally forth from their ivory towers, riding their high-horses down to condemn the “new” Christmas.

As the holiday season became more and more commercialized, the pushback in the Christian community grew. It started with the rejection of abbreviations. In my private high school, we were forbidden from writing “X-mas” and drilled to recite, “You can’t spell Christmas without Christ.”

There’s nothing wrong with this on the surface. Especially for a kid susceptible to PlayStation tunnel vision, it was an important reminder of the true “reason for the season.” (Oh, add that to the list of pre-programmed responses.)

And all of this kind of talk is well intentioned. It keeps us focused on what we can all agree is the most important aspect of the Christmas season: the birth of the Savior. But the rejection of secular customs often goes too far. Many believers totally shun the various perversions of this time of year in an attempt to draw attention to Christ.

Why does a healthy focus require a complete rejection of the worldly meaning of Christmas? Sure, things have gotten a little… erm, commercialized, and it’s never pleasant to hear about parents trampling each other for the last Furby. But not every aspect of this modern Christmas is despicable. In fact, many traditions conceived with godless intentions can be quite healthy for Christians.

Take, for example, Christmas music. I love a good candlelit “Silent Night” as much as anyone, but there’s a certain whimsical innocence from a good version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

Actually, just singing and talking about Santa for a month tends to bring out the kid in each of us. The world tends to make us callous over time, and Christmas traditions are my favorite way to once again feel the carefree innocence of youth. We are told that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17), and is there any greater example of child-like faith than that in Santa Claus?

Then there are the presents. Most Christian families give gifts, but I’ve known some that would only give three gifts, “because Jesus only got three.” Not that anyone’s keeping score, but Jesus’ gifts were pretty precious and expensive. Unless you frequently drop gold bullion in stockings, you don’t have to worry about out-gifting the wise men.

Besides, the spirit of giving is what makes Christmas season so special. Why would we limit generosity because of an arbitrary counting exercise? The secular version may have gotten this one right.

So as you finish finals and pack for home, I hope you’re dancing to your favorite version of “Frosty the Snowman.” And during break, don’t shake your head at the parent hell-bent on finding that rare toy for their child. There are many times when Christians are called to reject the ways of the world, but Christmas season is not one of them.

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