As Christmas has approached I have found myself in a few different conversations with other Christians about their concerns with the trend to rebrand “Christmas” as “the Holidays”. The conversation frequently sounds the same, with most lamenting the loss of what once was in our culture and someone passionately demanding that “Christ” be put back into “Christmas”. As these conversations unfold, I find myself unsure about how I feel. Am I angry? No. Am I happy? No. Am I surprised that this is where our society is at? No, not really. Am I sad? Maybe, but less about what we call this time of year and more that most people are ignorant of the significance of what we are supposed to be celebrating.
As I reflect on what passes as “Christmas” celebrations in our culture, I think I may actually be okay with simply referring to this time of the year as “the holidays” for reasons that go beyond political correctness. There are many good things about the way that we celebrate this time of year (i.e. charity, gift giving, the opportunity to spend time with family, peace and good-will, etc.). But the reality is that how the season is celebrated at a popular level has very little to do with Jesus (i.e. over-indulgence, over-spending, greed, waste, some vague empowering force called “Christmas Spirit”, etc.) and perhaps it would be best to separate these things from his name.
In one of my recent conversations a story was told of a primary school classroom survey that revealed that very few children were aware that Jesus had anything to with Christmas. As one participant in the conversation stated, “maybe this is a good thing, because it means that they haven’t been jaded by Christians.” In a podcast I listened to today by Dr. Tony Campolo he suggested a similar thought. He suggested that many in our current culture have been inoculated against the gospel by “Christian” culture. He went on to suggest that perhaps this move away from a “Christian” holiday was an opportunity for the church to do its own marketing and storytelling about who Jesus is in a compelling way. I agree! As Christians we cannot rely on our culture to tell the story of Jesus and convey the significance of Christmas. This is not their role or job and to expect this of them is unfair and unrealistic. Rather as the church, it is our job to proclaim the birth of Jesus and to invite people to experience Jesus for themselves.
Now I don’t think I am suggesting a boycott of everything our culture does during “the Holidays”, although I would certainly advocate for moderation and discernment, but I think that we need to figure out how we can be different. Perhaps it is a slowing down to contemplate and reflect on God’s love and gift of Jesus. Maybe it is the development of traditions that focus our attention on the significance of the birth of Christ. It certainly could be, and should be, the telling of the story of Jesus in a manner that connects with those around us. The significance of Christmas does not diminish with branding or whether we call the trees in our living room’s “Holiday trees” or “Christmas trees”, rather the significance is found in the baby in the manger - God dramatically breaking into our reality so that we could experience God’s forgiveness, restoration and divine peace. It is our responsibility to remember this and to proclaim it to our culture.
The Tony Campolo podcast can be found on itunes (http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/tony-campolo-podcast/id191995877). See the release on 12/18/11.