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Who Needs Christmas, Anyway?

December 22, 2014

You may have heard that there is a war on Christmas. Apparently it consists largely of saying “Happy Holidays” (which, as I’m sure I must have mentioned somewhere before, I had long assumed simply meant “Enjoy both Christmas and New Year’s”). There’s even a Christian movie fighting back against the war on Christmas[1]. Unfortunately, I think there’s a lot of reason to think that Christmas is pretty terrible. Who needs it? Not me – the end of the semester is stressful enough without having to buy gifts for people, plan travel, and get all of my lab animals fed during all of that. (Note, for instance, the missed post last week.) I have a million things to do before spring semester begins and yet I will spend most of my time between the end of fall semester and the beginning of spring semester seeing family and celebrating Christmas, not getting my enormous to-do list any shorter. I love my family but all of this adds to my stress levels.

I’m hardly alone on this. Lots of people find the holidays stressful, both emotionally and financially. Celebration seems to be hard work. Did you get the right thing for everyone? Did you get enough for everyone? Will you see all your relatives (perhaps your own and your spouse’s)? Will you spend a lot of money traveling to do so? Will you hear some really awful Christmas music (yes – thanks, war on Christmas, for making sure only the really terrible tunes remain kosher for public playing)? Of course, it’s worse if you cancel Christmas. Not only does this make you a terrible, fun-hating Scrooge but it also leaves you alone at a time when everyone else is visiting family. For some people holding a celebration isn’t a option – there’s no family left or everyone is too far away to visit on the current budget and so Christmas is a time to be alone and really have your face rubbed in your loneliness.

So what if we all canceled Christmas? Who needs Christmas, anyway? I would enjoy a break, I would enjoy seeing my family, but who needs a mandated holiday? I don’t really need any gifts – I’d like them, but if Christmas wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t feel a gaping hole for lack of gifts. If I didn’t get assaulted by, amongst other things, my local grocery store’s mascot singing insipid Christmas songs when I went to buy milk I’d be happier. If I visited my family during the semester’s spring break that would work a lot better for me – but Christmas insists that I schedule my family time now.

This Christmas horrible things will happen. People will be killed in war zones in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. In the Islamic State captured women will be sold as sex slaves. In Bangladesh child slaves will be forced to work making cheap items to sell to the West. In our own streets drug deals will go down, murders will be arranged, and children will go to bed hungry.

Some of these people need Christmas. Some of these people need a God Who steps into history and takes charge. Some people need the Incarnation.

Christmas exists in two forms under two different gods. For many of us Christmas is ruled by Santa, the unswervingly generous task-master of holiday cheer and not forgetting to buy an insanely expensive gaming system for your children. For others, Christmas is a reminder that God has not forgotten us, that God is not an absent clockmaker Who has wound up creation and let it run itself down in His eternal absence. Calling Santa a god may seem insane but a friend of mine tells me about a missionary trip into India where a Hindu shopkeeper welcomed her around the Christmas season by pointing out that he had a statue of her god – Santa. We export Santa as a holy icon of our consumerism and we wonder, justly, who needs Santa’s Christmas?

A few days ago I read a long diatribe against religion. The author pointed out that religiosity is correlated with a country’s development status. More developed countries tend to be less religious. This, he said, shows that religion holds you back. Now, there are problems with his sample size and methodology but I’m not surprised by his finding that more developed countries are less religious. Who, with a middle-class income, a house, stability, and regular meals needs God? What coddled, middle-class Westerner needs the Incarnation? If the world was flipped upside down how many of us would be at the bottom? We’ve chosen a god appropriate to our national religion: Santa. He has no fixed morals to impose (although he rewards us when we’re nice), he punishes no one (except by withholding reward), and he gives out free stuff that we mostly don’t really need. I am not surprised that many of us don’t want Jesus. He’s not much like Santa. He’s disruptive, transformative, and He might try to fix us. Worse yet, He might succeed.

Christmas, in its Incarnational sense, is for the weak and the broken. It’s for the people who, when the world is flipped upside down, will be at the top. When I hear of the suffering in the world it breaks my heart. I want God to step in and set things right. Christmas reminds us that He has, that He does. Christmas is about a nation that longed for a savior, that waited for hundreds of years for God to answer them, and Christmas is about that answer. Who needs Christmas? All of us who feel the brokenness of the world. We need the Incarnation. We need that Christmas. Do we need the rest? Only if it serves the Lord and His purposes.

[1] I have heard that it is both terrible and takes place mostly inside a car. I am hoping that neither of these things is true.

One Comment leave one →


  1. The Gods Our Fathers Bought Us for Christmas | The Jawbone Of an Ass

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