I am somewhat deliberately being “funny” with this post. For quick background, I have to confess that my childhood experiences made me a Grinch. Christmas was an ordeal for most part, when I was a kid – and it didn’t have any religious significance to my family, although Christmas day was the only time my mother went to church as long as I remeber (that happened once). But when I was 19, I experienced a profound change in my relationship with religion. I got a testimony or a spiritual witness of the divinity of Jesus, and an understanding of his mission on earth. That gave to me a new idea about Christmas.
But then I ran into another kind of dilemma. Christmas, as celebrated by modern Christians, is a hodgepodge of myths of varying backgrounds. Just for an example, the Christmas tree, while an obvious continuation of the Pagan tree worship, has a number of explanations for a meaning symbolic of some Christian belief. Why is turkey such a big item on the Anglo-Saxon Christmas menu or why do especially Scandinavians prefer the ham? What are Yule logs for? And how did St. Nicholas go from a helper of the poor to breezing around the world in a magical sleigh pulled by flying reindeer distributing stuff to kids, who are already over-indulged? Christmas enthusiasts will have explanations to those questions and many more you hadn’t even thought of asking.
My point is that Christmas is essentially what we make of it. Last week (Wednesday, the 17th, to be specific) Laura Miller wrote about Christmas in a New York Times Op-Ed piece called It’s a Narnia Christmas (the title I ended up brazenly plagiarizing here – but at least I identified her as my source). She contemplated C. S. Lewis’ mixing together of elements from very different and seemingly incompatible sources in his stories that make up the world of Narnia. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for example, has at its core a very explicitly Christian symbolism, but it also has stuff like fauns in it, together with other mythological beings in no way related to them. The story is told in a way that can be equally appreciated by non-Christians and Christians alike.
For those, who want to go back to the “original” essence of Christmas, it seems a daunting task (original to whom?). Of course, an approach that works for a Christian is to “put Christ into Christmas”; finding an explicitly Christ-centered meaning in the mixture of traditions seems like something worth pursuing. The best place to start from would be to consider the central meaning of Jesus’ mission on earth to our eternal salvation – without him, there would be no way of satisfying the demands of justice while extending mercy (see Alma 34:8 – 16). Without him, Death would have the last word.
The LDS perspective on Christmas is interesting. Since we know that Jesus was not born in December, some early saints of the restoration were somewhat uncertain about the position of the celebration. The First Presidency then announced that it is appropriate to celebrate Christmas, as long as you avoid excess (it may be helpful to remember that in the mid-19th century Christmas celebrations tended to center around getting drunk and disorderly). I would have loved to give proper reference to that FP statement, but I couldn’t find it for now. Now, of course, there is no ambivalence: Christmas theme is prominently displayed on lds.org home page. Christmas is recognized as an opportunity to remind people – ourselves included – of the Savior’s central role for us.
Anyhow, I sincerely wish y’all can make for yourselves a Christmas that will give you a respite from the worldly pursuits of whatever it is you pursue. And, for those of us in the North, an excuse to light the candle – or, if you’re more ecologically minded, the low-energy bulbs or LEDs – and escape the darkness of the winter.
And, talking about darkness, I will quote from a favorite hymn:
Abide with me ’tis eventide, and lone will be the night
If I cannot commune with thee nor find in thee my light
The darkness of the world, I fear, would in my home abide.
O Savior stay this night with me, behold ’tis eventide
-Hyms, 166, by M. Lowrie Hofford
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). That he would light my way, I always pray.