I like the traditional songs, the lights, the trees, the food, the presents, the getting together with friends and family, all of that stuff.
I like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Christmas Carol (Muppet, Mickey Mouse, George C. Scott or Alistair Sim versions, or all four).
I even like the snow…well, for that two or three weeks of the year.
But I’ve never been someone who worries about the commercialization of the season, which might seem odd, since I grew up the son of a preacher and church elder…until you understand that I grew up in the Church of Christ, and Christmas (as I’m forever explaining to startled acquaintances) wasn’t that big a thing with us. In fact, we were more likely to cancel services (at least evening services) on Christmas Day if it fell on a Sunday, rather than hold any special services. And while we might have gone so far as to sing a Christmas carol or two in church, I sang many a carol in the middle of the summer when the preacher decided to draw his lesson from the nativity portions of the Gospels.
That’s not to say my family didn’t celebrate Christmas. We had a tree and presents and all that stuff. We had the big Christmas dinner (although it was more likely to be enchilada casserole, one of my Mom’s specialties, than a turkey). We just never really considered it a religious holiday, because we didn’t have any religious holidays (including Easter): or, rather, every Sunday was considered a religious holiday, and we didn’t need any others.
So when the Pope ended up in the news in the past few days by pointing out a few gentle truths about the historical record (“Killjoy Pope crushes Christmas nativity traditions: New Jesus book reveals there were no donkeys beside crib, no lowing oxen and definitely no carols,” screams the headline in that U.K. bastion of sober journalism, the DailyMail), well, whoopdy-do. As the folks at Get Religion (a blog focusing on news coverage of religious matters) point out, anyone in any Christian tradition that’s been paying attention already knows what the Pope just reiterated.
Growing up in my tradition, I especially knew it, because one reason for our iconoclastic avoidance of religious ceremony on December 25 was because it almost certainly was not Jesus’s birthday. (Although the main reason is simply that there is no instruction in the New Testament to celebrate Jesus’s birth, unlike the injunction to mark the first day of the week [the day on which Jesus rose from the dead], and the motto of the early-19th century Restoration Movement, out of which the Church of Christ emerged as a separate group, was, “To speak where the Bible speaks, and to be silent where the Bible is silent.”
Also, I’ve been told since I was a child that Jesus was probably actually born a few years B.C., because King Herod died in 4 B.C. and he was King when Jesus was born and for at least a couple of years afterward, and he was the one who, in the Bible account, ordered all children two and under slain in an attempt to snuff out the incipient threat to his Kingship, which is why Mary and Joseph fled with the infant Jesus into Egypt.
Oh, and while we’re at it, the number of wise men is not given (three comes from the number of gifts mentioned), and they did not show up while Jesus was in the manger, but some indeterminate time afterward, within that two-year period, and found Jesus in a house, not a stable.
That’s not to say we didn’t occasionally, in church, give a nod to the world’s fascination with December 25 as the birth of Jesus. We excused ourselves by noting that at least the world was interested in Jesus this time of the year, and anything that drew the world’s attention to Christ was bound to be beneficial.
That said, I distinctly remember one blistering anti-Christmas sermon from a visiting preacher from Nigeria telling us we should have nothing to do with this heathen custom. We listened politely, but I don’t think he convinced anyone.
So, Christmas was never a religious occasion for me, and I guess it still isn’t. But still…
It’s glittery and tawdry and over-the-top, and we all indulge too much, and though families get together they don’t always have a good time together, and lonely people feel lonelier, and blah blah blah: we’ve all read the news stories, year after year, which in their own way are as blisteringly anti-Christmas as that Nigerian preacher’s was all those years ago, though the criticism comes from a different direction and a different source…
…and yet, I love Christmas.
Partly it’s because I have a child of my own, and she loves it for the same reasons all children love Christmas. Partly it’s because, as my wife will affirm, I perhaps have not completely grown up (hey, I make up stories for a living—what do you expect?) and thus retain a bit of my own childlike enjoyment of the season. But partly, I think, it’s that there’s something at the heart of Christmas, the story of the Creator who becomes one of his own creation in order to save them, that resonates with many of us.
And it should especially resonate with writers. God is sometimes called the Author of Creation. He’s the only author who ever actually became one of his characters: and out of all the characters he could have chosen, he chose a character born in humble circumstances who was tortured to death while still a young man.
Religious or not, you have to admire that kind of dedication in an author!