Bear with me folks – this is a long one. It took me some time to put it together, so if you’re going to read it I’d be appreciative if you read it all the way through.
It’s difficult for me to accurately express my feelings about Christmas. There are some things about Christmas that I absolutely love and there are things about Christmas that I really don’t like much. It’s always an interesting time for me as I try to manage the sometimes conflicting feelings I have about the season. If you’ll indulge me for a while I’ll try to explore my thoughts and feelings about the season and maybe it’ll end up making some sort of sense.
Let’s start with the reasons why I don’t like Christmas, so we can end on a positive note.
I don’t like how Christmas has become a very commercial holiday, it seems the only reason Christmas exists to the corporate world is to make a buck. I was in a Wal-Mart store the day after Halloween and there were Christmas trees, angels, colored balls, tinsel, lights, Santa Clauses (or is it Santa Clausi?), and decorations of every sort and size. I expressed my surprise to the person I was with. I have never seen Christmas marketed so early before. Ever. Perhaps I’m just a naïve shopper, but I was really taken aback by this.
Kids make a list of the things they want for Christmas, listing such things as iPods, Nintendos, cell phones, DVD’s, toys, etc. They sit on Santa’s lap and recite the list to him hoping and expecting to receive the things they request. Do I blame the children for this? Absolutely not. I don’t know who to blame, nor do I think it’s important that someone receive blame for this. It’s just something I don’t like. On a day we commemorate the greatest gift we, as children of God, have received the only thing people think about are bicycles, Barbies, movies, and what “I’m going to get for Christmas”. It’s disheartening to see.
Santa Claus plays a big role in all of this. The jolly old elf who slides down chimneys, rides in a sleigh pulled by tiny reindeer, maintains a list of every child in the world and checks it twice before he goes on his worldwide whirlwind journey has become a symbol of everything I dislike about Christmas, which is unfortunate really, given the history of Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas. According to Wikipedia, St. Nick was the “primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Santa Claus.” Apparently, he was well known for giving gifts to the poor – definitely a noteworthy and laudable practice. You can read more of the Wikipedia article on the history of Santa Claus by clicking on the link above.
I don’t dislike Santa Claus for the history behind the legend, for his tradition of distributing gifts or even for the fabricated story of his existence. The problem I have with Santa Claus is that he has become the figure of Christmas. If you were to poll people who celebrate Christmas on who they associate with Christmas I would imagine you would overwhelmingly hear people mention Santa Claus, children especially.
Despite some people’s belief that Christmas evolved with Pagan influence, Christmas is not the celebration of a fat man in a red suit. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world – the Lord Jesus Christ. Even with the benevolent background of St. Nicholas, there really is no comparison between the two. Santa Claus’ supplanting of Christ as the central figure of Christmas is really what is at the root of my distaste for what the holiday has become.
A poem, by an author unknown to me, brings tears to my eyes each time I read it.
At Christmas time there was a man
who looked so out of place
as people rushed about him
at a hurried sort of pace.
He stared at all the Christmas lights,
the tinsel everywhere,
the shopping center Santa Claus
with children gathered near.
The mall was packed with shoppers
who were going to and fro,
some with smiles, some with frowns,
and some too tired to go.
They rested on benches
or they hurried on their way
to fight the crowds for purchases
to carry home that day.
The music from the stereo
was playing loud and clear
of Santa Claus and snowmen
and funny nosed reindeer.
He heard the people talk about
the good times on the way,
of parties, fun and food galore,
and gift exchange that day.
"I'd like to know what's going on,"
the man was heard to say.
"There seems to be some sort
of celebration on the way.
And would you tell me who this is
all dressed in red and white
and why are children asking him
about a special night."
The answer came in disbelief,
"I can't believe my ear.
I can't believe you do not know,
that Christmas time is here.
The time when Santa comes around
with gifts for girls and boys
when they are asleep on Christmas Eve,
he leaves them books and toys.
The man you see in red and white
is Santa Claus so sly.
The children love his joyful laugh,
and twinkle in his eye.
His gift packed sleigh is pulled along
by very small reindeer
as he flies quickly through the air,
while darting here and there.
The children learn of Santa Claus
while they are still quite small.
When Christmas comes he is the most
important one of all."
The stranger hung His head in shame,
He closed a nail pierced hand.
His body shook in disbelief.
He did not understand.
A shadow crossed His stricken face,
His voice was low but clear.
"After all these years they still don't know."
And Jesus shed a tear.
Friends – this is why I love Christmas. It is the time we celebrate the birth of the Only Begotten of the Father, the One who came to save us from our sins. He became like us so we could become like Him. As has been said by His duly ordained Prophet and Apostles, “God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.”
Herein lays the true reason for the season. Amid all the sparkling lights and hubbub that accompanies the holiday let us celebrate Christ and His birth. Let us teach our children that Christ is the center of Christmas and all the other traditions or celebrations are secondary to Christ.
I love how people become more compassionate and caring at Christmas time. I don’t have any statistical backup for this, just anecdotal evidence based on hearing about service being rendered at homeless shelters and other community type organizations. The love people feel for their fellow beings at this season is admirable. I only wish it would continue all year, but the outpouring at this time of year is impressive. It’s difficult to feel less concerned for others during Christmas time.
During the year I’m very appreciative of the sacrifices of the soldiers protecting us while away from their families, but that feeling grows exponentially at this time of year.
I received the following poem in an email recently and it expresses pretty poignantly the feelings I have regarding our service men and women. It’s written by a gentlemen named Michael Marks.
The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight;
The sparkling lights in the tree, I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem.
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.
The sound wasn’t loud, and it wasn’t too near,
But I opened my eye when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn’t quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood; his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.
“What are you doing?” I asked without fear
“Come in this moment, it’s freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!”
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts,
To the window that danced with a warm fire’s light
Then he sighed and he said, “It’s really all right,
I’m out here by choice. I’m here every night”
“It’s my duty to stand at the front of the line
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I’m proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at ‘Pearl on a day in December,”
Then he sighed, “That’s a Christmas ‘Gram always remembers.”
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ‘Nam
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
I’ve not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he’s sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red white and blue… an American flag.
“I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home,
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat,
I can carry the weight of killing another
Or lay down my life with my sisters and brothers
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To insure for all time that this flag will not fall.”
“So go back inside,” he said, “harbor no fright
Your family is waiting and I’ll be all right.”
“But isn’t there something I can do, at the least,
“Give you money,” I asked, “or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you’ve done,
For being away from your wife and your son.”
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
“Just tell us you love us, and never forget
To fight for our rights back at home while we’re gone;
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust.
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.”
God bless and keep our soldiers and their families.
There is good in people – despite my job and experiences I have had, the one thing I have not lost is my faith in people. That goodness seems to be demonstrated to a large degree around Christmas time. When asked, people explain simply, “I got the Christmas spirit.” What is the “Christmas Spirit” and why does it inspire people to do good to their fellow man? I think the Christmas Spirit is nothing less than the love of Christ. It’s a wonderful thing to see it spread around.
This time of year, please consider the things that truly matter and it’s not Santa Claus or presents under a tree. The things that matter are family, friends, goodwill, love and kindness. These are the things that mattered to Christ when He walked the earth and I’d be willing to bet those are the very same things that matter to Him now and are the same things He would have matter to us as well. Please share that love with the people around you.
Remember what Dr. Seuss said, in his famous story about the Grinch who stole Christmas, after the Grinch had stolen the presents, packages, food and all the trappings of Christmas,
"It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
Merry Christmas and God bless you my friends – may you be happy and loved this season and throughout the year.