Having grown up in Canada, I have a rather precise view of what 'Christmas' is, because Canada is a country which is very 'Christmas'-y, in my very scientific opinion. Canadians are generally known for their politeness and kindness, and everyone's a little kinder during Christmas. Canada is very snowy, and I think a Christmas without snow would be lame. (Sorry, vast majority of the human race.) Christmas has a lot of red and white, so does the Canadian flag. Where's the green? In the vast evergreen forests.
Yup, if every country got a holiday, Canada would have Christmas. Wait, every country has a holiday? Canada Day? Not important, you know what I mean.
As we approach the holiday, it's easy to get a warped idea about what 'Christmas' really is and really means.
Note: I'm not talking about commercialization here. Every year there's a deluge of people/movies/media devoted to talking about how commercialized Christmas is, and I think that's mostly silly. Yes, Christmas is commercialized, and so is every holiday, life event, tragedy, and trend in our society. Christmas isn't overly commercialized, that is to say more so than any other event, and so to some extent I don't care much about that.
Christmas 2006. I was literally on the other side of the world, living in a small apartment above some stores in Gyumri, or Kirovakan if going by the Soviet renaming of cities, in Northern Armenia with my companion, Elder Ryan Leavitt. Being part of the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity, Christmas and New Year's are kind of lumped together in a single holiday season in early January. Still, American Culture being as pervasive as it is, a kind of pseudo-Christmas is now celebrated on the 25th. As a missionary, spending every day talking about Christ, it was easy to get to feeling the 'reason for the season.' For me, this Christmas would become unforgettable because of one important lesson learnt.
Elder Leavitt and I went to church and we knew it would be pretty awesome, and not just for the normal reasons -- church in Armenia could always get really exciting really fast, due to the relatively new concept of communal participation in services -- but because the District President would be visiting. This man was an inspiring story and was serving as the religious leader for all Armenians. We were excited to here what he had to say, and he didn't disappoint. President Poghosyan gave me my favorite Christmas lesson of all time:
"Everyone loves Christmas, because Christmas is easy to love. It is about love! It is about kindness. It is easy to love baby Jesus, because baby Jesus is a cute baby, sitting in a manger. Baby Jesus does not require us to give of ourselves to others, to forgive our enemies, to follow his commandments, to love all of our brothers and sisters. It is easy to love baby Jesus, but we must do better. We must remember that baby Jesus grew up, and became Jesus Christ the man, the man who taught us how to live and challenged us to become better versions of ourselves, was the ultimate example, and gave His life for us."
I love this idea, because it highlights the most important point of Christianity, in my mind, and it's not the point that most people think Christianity is trying to make. Christianity is all about Christ, because he was never all about himself. The Christ that baby Jesus grew to become taught us the most important theological lesson of this world: Talking about your religion will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, come close to being as valuable as simply living your religion. This generates a 'light,' a light that will 'shine forth' if only generated. And this all brings me to the point I really want to make, which I will make by hijacking a quote from Charles Spurgeon:
"Defend [Christmas]? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself."
Originally about the Bible, I take Spurgeon's excellent wording to make the same point about the King of Holidays. If you'd like to live Christmas, live Christmas! But don't worry about defending Christmas -- it's a big boy. It can take care of itself.
So don't join in on the conversation currently in the media about the color of Santa's skin. It would be hard for anything to matter less. Drawing attention to race when talking about a man who, in modernity, represents the generosity of the season by visiting all children of the world without distinction -- that wouldn't be very Christmas-y.
Don't waste any time talking about how it's important to affirm Christmas as the main holiday and to try and prevent other holidays from joining in. Don't let anyone's faith go unnoticed, unappreciated, or pushed against. It wouldn't be very Christmas-y.
During the holiday season, don't let a TV celebrity's comments about homosexuality be the basis for an online tirade against either side of a complex ethical and religious division. Don't speak unkindly of those who, in whatever way they see fit, are pursuing the same goal we all are: happiness. It wouldn't be very Christmas-y.
When you see your family members, try to think more about happy memories you've had and less about the hurtful ones. No need to bring up old mistakes people already feel bad about. It wouldn't be very Christmas-y.
So what's the meaning of Christmas? I think it's feeling Christmas-y. It seems like every year I hear that people aren't feeling super 'Christmas-y.' I've never had that problem. Feel free to make use of my fool-proof recipe for 'feeling the season.'
Drive past some Christmas lights with family or friends. Sing some Christmas songs. Find someone who needs some help and help them out. Tell everyone 'Merry Christmas.' Send a gift to an old friend who might think you've forgotten them. Try extra hard to not get upset about things people say, and try equally hard to not say any upsetting things. Read Luke 2. Hug more. Find somewhere to write down what Christmas means to you. Then drink so much Eggnog that you feel sick to your stomach.
That last one may not be necessary, but I haven't tried the recipe without it yet, and I don't want to try.