I have been commenting on the commercialization and cultural co-opting of Christmas, and a number of people ask, “So, what do you suggest?” Well, here is a suggestion — though I know full well and good it won’t fly. Solutions are only solutions if they work, and this doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance…, but anyway. Short of having a Santa-Jesus smackdown or celebrity deathmatch, here is how I would propose redeeming Christmas as a religious observance while also connecting with the joyous cultural celebration of our secular Christlessmas.
Define Christmas as the Twelve Days of Christmas — allow the four-week period preceding Christmas to actually BE Advent, then move into a true Christmastide.
Let Christmas Eve/Christmas day become a religious observance — remember whose birth we are actually celebrating (regardless of when Jesus was ACTUALLY born — we have “officially” designated December the 25th, so let’s keep it simple). Open our churches for prayer, singing, celebration. Design services for the whole family. Design services for those who are part of the Christian community. Design services to reach and teach those outside. Give God and Christ the focus for the two days — celebrating Christmas no matter what day of the week it happens to fall upon. Sing the songs of Christmas for two weeks (following the glorious songs of Advent the month before).
Use New Year’s Day as a time of family gathering and celebration — let the food, fun, sugar, singing, toasting, tooting, fireworking commence! Let the party celebrating the old year and kicking off the new year shift into high gear. “Clutter” it up with religion if you want to, but there is nothing wrong with a party of lights, music, refreshments and fellowship that is not “justified” by the faith.
Make Epiphany the gift-giving day that keeps on giving — if it was good enough (metaphorically and symbolically) for the magi, it should be good enough for us. Closing the festival of Christmastide with the exchange of gifts allows the tradition to continue, but it is tied more to the visit of those honoring the Christ child rather than us getting gifts on Jesus’ birthday.
The basic benefit is that it extends the commemoration while allowing the religious and the secular to coexist in a more elegant and respectful tango. It gives Christmas back its identity as a religious observance, pulls in the celebration of the New Year, and elevates the Epiphany remembrance both culturally and ecclesially. It also puts meaning back into the 12 Days of Christmas and allows us to extend the Carol/Hymn/Christmas song season almost two weeks. This gives churches the opportunity to sing the classics more than one or two services a year.
It would be wonderful to feel that the church universal could reclaim its teaching function and help define Christmas as religious observance from cultural debauch. I have no delusions that anyone else might take this seriously, but I would love to hear other people’s ideas about the reclamation and restoration of Christmas. Grace and peace!