I’ve heard a lot of stuff about war on Christmas by Christian preachers. I’m sure my atheistic friends (yes, I do have a few of those) would think that this blog post is about that. I hate to disappoint you. I’m not going to preach about the war on Christmas. My Christian friends (I have loads of those) probably think that I’m going to talk about the general meaning of Christmas or what the real meaning of Christmas or some other historical facts about Christmas (due to the fact that I’m a New Testament PhD). Well, I’ve covered those in a series of Advent blogs in my previous years. So, again, I’m going to disappoint you. I’m not going to talk much about that either. Instead, I’m going to please neither atheists nor Christians by talking about what Christmas means to me when I hear the too-early Christmas carols in the stores.
When I hear the songs in the store, I always smile because this is (cliche warning) the “most wonderful time of the year.” This is the year my older son left home to go to the university. He’s done quite well. When I hear the songs, they remind me that he’s going to be home soon, and I can’t wait. I think of the time he was my best lifting partner in our home gym, always knowing when to spot me and when to let me push through. I also remember his wise reminder, “Dad, are you sure your back can handle it? I think you’re a bit injured. Maybe you should rest it today instead of putting twenty more pounds on the deadlift. Your right shoulder doesn’t look good today. Maybe ease up on the incline bench before you seriously hurt yourself.” He’s my lifting conscience. I’m also reminded of the times when we got into heated disagreements probably not because either one of us was entirely wrong but because we’re so much like each other with strong personalities, strong principles and even stronger opinions. I miss my older son (the one on the right in the photo). When I hear the song, I also recall that this is the time when I have to lift alone in that frigid weight room because my little sophomore son, the other “best” lifting partner (the one on the left in the photo), is going to be in wrestling practice or the school gym to get strong and technical for yet one more varsity season. It’s a reminder to put on lifting gloves not because I’m afraid of callouses but because the bar is so unbearably cold. The gym misses the heat of the two boys.
Christmas is the time when we spend one of the few days off as a family. My wife usually gets very little time off because she works IT for a giant fashion retailer. Christmas is a busy time for retailers. My little one gets almost no time off as he has to go to wrestling practices to prepare for a huge state-wide tournament during Christmas break. There’s always practice on December 26. The team must be ready to roll. My older son would be the only one on break until his university starts up again. I always fly out early on December 26 because there’s always someone inviting me to teach or speak somewhere, and usually I fly somewhere far far away for half a month, but I’m not complaining. The bills have to be paid and my students and readers always warmly welcome me. So, I will probably get my last heavy workout in to make sure I’m in good shape before flying (this year, I squat on Christmas day).
Christmas morning is one day when we will sleep in to whenever we feel like. So, Christmas is precious in my household where we sit back and perhaps watch some of the football or soccer games we DVR’d or rent a DVD. My lovely wife usually makes a production of cooking and baking. Luckily she’s the best baker because if I were to do the baking or cooking, our entire family would be eating some very lousy food. I can almost smell the raspberry chocolate cake. For just one day, both my little one (who’s on strict diet for wrestling) and I will slightly indulge ourselves while looking at the snow outside our beautiful neighborhood. These are the happy memories of Christmas. This to me is the big picture in my mind.
What I’m sharing above is only one interpretation of Christmas because other things do matter, things such as Christmas being a consumer holiday that has stopped being meaningful. I get that! Or the historical facts that Christmas probably wasn’t in the winter and Bethlehem wasn’t snowy are important. I get that too! And there’s the Syrian refugee crisis and the homeless in the cold areas of our inner cities. Goodness, we certainly can’t forget those poor folks. Various charities are going to raise some money from do-gooders to help these folks. For some, Christmas is a time when they suffered loss of loved ones. It isn’t a joyous time. I accept that. Our lives shape how we experience Christmas. Christmas isn’t merely a historical event that requires us to dissect its meaning based on this or that fact so that we can feel good about how righteous we are or how wrong others are. History is important, but how we interpret history matters. Neither is Christmas some kind of celebration that should make us fight self-righteously about this or that ideology. And self-righteousness exists in abundance on both sides of the fence whether one is pro or against Christmas. All this takes away the experience of Christmas.
As a Christian, I’m going to conclude about the universal (i.e., for people of faith or no faith) significance of Christmas ironically through the exclusively Christian lens. When Jesus came to identify with weak humanity, he came with a goal towards a tragic death. Yet, he came as a baby, tolerating our every experience and bearing with our many shortfalls. While standing up for truths, he stood tolerantly with those who might be rejects of society. He even stood with those with different moral or ideological standards than he. The true experience of Christmas demands that we open up our hearts just a little to empathize with other meanings of Christmas for all people and take it a little easier on others who have a different interpretation of Christmas, whether they’re Christians or not. We do so in the way Jesus opened up his mission to everyone. If someone doesn’t enjoy Christmas, find out why instead of forcing that person to enjoy Christmas. If someone enjoys Christmas, don’t rain on his or her parade. Why be such a pain in the neck and spoil sport? Why sweat the small stuff? Christmas isn’t merely about tolerance of different ideas. It’s about learning to empathize behind different voices not by talking AT them, but by listening TO them. We can’t understand everyone’s interpretation of Christmas, but we can take the chance to listen and build meaningful relationships. On that note, I wish everyone a happy holiday and of course, a very early merry Christmas.