The National Catholic Review

When I was 5 or 6 years old, I convinced my mother that I should sleep under the Christmas tree so that I could wait for Santa and greet him when he arrived at our house. I don’t recall much of the rest of that night, but I have always been a fitful sleeper and I rolled into the tree and crashed it down. I was taken back to my bedroom, with me still groggy and without protesting, and I slept until the early morning. Though I never saw Santa that night, when I woke up that morning I knew that he did arrive as the presents under the tree testified loudly to his presence. Santa came!

I grew up in a devout Christian family, but Santa and presents and candy and feasts and family and all of the Yuletide fixtures feature largely in my Christmas memories, along with Jesus and the manger and Mary and Joseph and Bethlehem and Shepherds and Magi and the true meaning of Christmas. If there is a “War on Christmas,” I simply do not pay attention. I celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation, God breaking into human life in an unprecedented way, but there is room for all of it at Christmas.

I never tire of Christmas - I never tire of Christmas stuff, even if it is late when I actually get to it, and I have to rush around trying to get everything done. I am not bothered by the materialism of Christmas, since denunciations of materialism tend to be absent at every other time of year when it is just as worthy of criticism, maybe even more since spending more and more is at the foundation of our economy of fearful progress, and if you must spend money, why not in honor of the baby Jesus and to make your children happy? If you do not want to celebrate Christmas with lavish expenditures of money and gifts, there is a simple solution: just say no. I do not care if many people focus on fuzzy reasons for the season - warmth and love and family and caring - because all of these things are good and Jesus had them all as goods on the day of his birth. I do not care that many people who are nominally Christians want to celebrate Jesus’ birth and set foot for the first time in a year in Church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day - one day is better than no days and if Christmas pulls them in, how good is that? It does not matter to me that people who are not Christians adopt some of the trappings of Christmas and join in the holiday fun, even if their understanding of who Jesus is remains theologically limited; they are welcome in my books to have some fun and to enjoy the time with their families and friends. I am fine with those who denounce Christmas and its hegemony over our cultural lives and who do not want to join in the Christmas fun, banish it from the public square and put it in some modern day equivalent of a first century manger, since that is where the first Christmas was celebrated anyways. I am happy that people feel comfortable to step away from Christmas because it is not a part of their religious traditions and they should not have to join in with any religious celebration with which they feel uncomfortable.  I am at ease with schmaltzy Christmas specials, and Christmas movies, even though I do not like a lot of them - but don’t “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “The Bishop’s Wife” redeem them all? They do for me.

I am fine with the lack of theological sophistication many people express regarding Jesus, a lack of understanding that a savior was born that first Christmas day, God incarnate who came as a humble and vulnerable child to live amongst us and die for us, and a laser like focus on Santa Claus, without any greater understanding of St. Nicholas and the myths and legends which surround Nicholas; as my friend Martin Strong wrote on his Facebook page, "Remember, the holiday season is not about expensive presents and crass commercialism. It's about celebrating the birth of Santa." Some people might actually believe it - but most of us are just laughing and smiling. I am fine with all of this, “for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). That is good enough and as much as you can get of it, can understand of it at this time, is good enough. The child was born and dwelled among us. Join in and celebrate. You are welcome at the manger.

Merry Christmas everyone!

John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens

Comments

Michelle Russell | 12/24/2010 - 12:21pm
John,
Wonderfully said.  With a little one in our family this year, I am experiencing once again the child-like delight, joy, wonder, anticipation, excitement, etc... that is Christmas (no matter how it is, or is not, celebrated).  If we could keep that childlike smile in our hearts year-round, how beautiful our lives could be!  Merry Christmas!
Michelle