Back in my home town, everyone I knew celebrated Christmas. They might not have celebrated Baby Jesus in a manger, but as long as there were Christmas lights up and presents on the tree, we’ll say they celebrated Christmas.
Oh how I love Christmas! The sights and smells of Christmas trees and hot cocoa and chestnuts roasting on the grill’s of the street vendors in the city… It is really magical and heartwarming. I love the decorations and the music. And most of all, I love reflecting on how Jesus was born as a baby on earth simply to grow up and die for me. Because that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
As a Christian woman however, I choose to wish those around me Happy Holidays. Because Jesus didn’t come out screaming, “It’s Christmas. I’m here. Throw aside all of your traditions and celebrations. It’s all about me.” He just didn’t. Besides, most “Merry Christmases” that get shared these days aren’t about the baby boy anyway. They would be better said, “Merry Gift-Giving Day,” or “Happy Consumerist Blowout Day!”
And now, every time this season rolls around my Facebook wall is plastered with graphics and declarations and petitions and pleas for people to say only Merry Christmas. If a store says ‘Happy Holidays,’ don’t shop there. If a company chooses to put a menorah in the window, let’s boycott. Our nation’s capitals better be displaying a fake manger and plastic baby, or we are getting out our pens to start a petition, and passing it around with wild abandon.
I wish we all celebrated the Christmas season the way Jesus did. By blessing the poor and by bringing hope to the sick and needy. His birthday ushered in a 33 year long season of hope. Most of the Christians who I was raised around (usually the ones with the, “It’s not the holidays, it’s Christmas” banners out and their pens at the ready) are the least likely to be spreading hope to anyone this year, save the hope that their children’s wishlists might be granted. They are having huge potluck dinners together and exchanging gifts with their friends while others around them are struggling to survive. There are homeless and poor within a few miles who aren’t invited to the church family Christmas party because they haven’t been to church all year. There are kids who have parents that are a bit rough around the edges who are not welcomed with joy because mom or dad don’t attend Sunday services.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with parties and potlucks and gifts. But Christians of the world – you are not celebrating Christmas this way. You are simply celebrating the season. The holidays. Jesus doesn’t care about lights and garland, and who lit the candles in the sanctuary. And while I love these things, too, I see there is a better and more Christ-like way to celebrate, and it must include love for those who can give us nothing in return. Love for the hard to love. Love for strangers. Love for those who will turn their backs on us and deny us.
It needs to include feeding the homeless and hungry. Clothing the naked. Providing warmth to those who are cold. It must include sacrificing our comforts, stepping into a place or situation that is outside of our normal royal lives and relating to the sick and poor.
At the very least, it must include saying to our neighbors, Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Kwanzaa, or the plethora of other holidays celebrated by those we are called to love! It’s easy to say, “Happy Holidays,” in acknowledgement that we aren’t the only people on this earth, nor are we the most important. This is the simplest way of showing love. It doesn’t mean that we are giving in, or giving up. It means we are choosing to live in a free country. In a place where everyone gets to celebrate in peace in North America, however they choose.
Because no one sees Christ when we demand people act like us. They only see us. And it looks selfish and egotistical and rude.
I believe I serve a God who would enjoy a holiday meal with someone of another faith. I believe I serve a Christ who would have forgone turkey with Mother Mary in exchange for healing the sick and feeding the hungry. I believe I serve a man who called out to the children to come to him, no matter who their parents were or what they wore or how they talked. And if I want to be more like him, I have to embody these things as well.
Let’s not attempt to force the world to acknowledge our beautiful season of Christmas. Instead, let’s be the first to acknowledge others in love. Because the only way to receive anything of value, is to first give.
Happy Holidays, everyone!