Do you know anyone who is opting out of Christmas this year? I can understand why people would want to forgo Christmas. It is an incredibly stressful time of year. Too many functions, too many duties, too busy, the traffic, the pressure. It is also an expensive time of year – the cost of presents and foods, then there are all the catch-ups with friends and you go out and eat out and buy drinks. I guess a lot of people would also point out that they are not religious, so why celebrate an event they don’t believe in.
Even people who are religious sometimes choose to opt out of all the present buying and tinsel. They feel that the real sentiment behind Christmas is giving and charity, so instead of buying family members expensive, unneeded and unwanted presents they donate to a worthy charity, have a modest meal and even spend the day working in a soup kitchen. That doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend Christmas at all.
Other Christmas-boycotters point out that as a society we are already consuming too much. They point to global warming. Carbon emissions come from industry and manufacturing. Cut down on your consumption and you are cutting down on carbon emissions. I also accept that as a reasonable position (provided of course you believe in global warming).
How do I feel about Christmas?
Communities are held together, bonded by shared joys. Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah at this time of year (December 22 to 30). For Muslims, Muhammad’s birthday is November 10, and Ramadan is a very important time of year running through the month of May.
Christmas was of course a pagan ceremony held mid-winter. Historians think Jesus was probably born in the spring (when new lambs were born), but Christian missionaries adopted Yule celebrations to convert the Norse and Celtic pagans who were deeply attached to Yuletide.
The pagan Yule celebrated winter solstice. This is the shortest time between the sun rising and the sun setting. It happens on December 21st or 22nd. To pagans this meant that the winter was over and spring was coming and they had a festival to celebrate, and worshipped the sun for winning over the darkness.
The Christian take on Christmas
As Christians we also celebrate the light triumphing over the dark. You might not believe in God as a human deity, but at its simplest people of faith believe that there is a force for good – something celestial and powerful and wonderful that is beyond human understanding. And this powerful force for good is for people, loves people, despite our manifold of flaws. And as people of faith we talk to this force of good, which is commonly known as ‘God’, and our thoughts sent to the force of good are prayers. It might seem wild and crazy to some of you, but all I can say is don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
At Christmas we go to church, and with other people of faith, celebrate good trumping evil. This year it is a little challenging to do that. There have been such terrible bushfires in Australia. Many are asking if we are facing a climate emergency, if the world we know is disappearing. How can we celebrate good prevailing when we too often hear on television that the world has reached a tipping point environmentally and maybe there is no coming back. I guess that’s where faith comes into it. That is not to say that we can just float through life doing nothing. No, our instructions are to do our absolute best in this world. We should make any sacrifice to serve and protect the natural world – God’s creation, but at the core of faith we believe that God has our back. We ‘trust in’ or ‘know’ that this force of goodness/Godness will conquer and we know that we will one day find our way home to our celestial mother/father. Le me share a few of my favourite verses with you at Christmas time.
- Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
- Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
- Matthew 6:25 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
- Psalm 9:10 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
- Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Community and Christmas
I will never be able to forgo Christmas. I love that at Christmas time strangers talk to each other and become that little bit nicer. For example I was grocery shopping and I reached for a trolley at the same time as another man, and he insisted I take it, and we both laughed about the amount of trolley traffic in the supermarket.
I love watching children talking to Santa, and I love that they still believe in the big red man and all the magic, joy and wonderment that comes with stories of flying reindeers and the North Pole, and of course I’m prompted to revisit my childhood and remember my own innocence. I include a few Italian traditions in my Christmas – like panettone (Italian Christmas cake). Christmas is also cultural and connects us with our background.
Australian Christmases are unique – they are held in high summer and coincide with the end of the school year. Australia is not like Europe. In Europe they celebrate so many festivals like May Day, and Harvest Festival. In Australia, we tend to put our eggs in one basket – we go crazy at Christmas time and have coloured houselights, parties, food, tinsel, the works. Nothing in the world compares to an Aussie Christmas.
I am going to keep celebrating Christmas. I want to feel joy just for the sake of feeling joy. That in itself is a worthy goal. I hope I never stop believing that love and goodness will triumph. The world may not be perfect, actually it’s probably a bit of a mess, but maybe that’s why it is so important to still feel love and happiness and joy and hope at Christmas time. We are adding to the world’s net positives, not increasing the net negatives.
I think Chris Rea’s song, ‘Let’s Dance’ very much encompasses the joy of Christmas. The lyrics may be cheesy but remember them as you spend time with family and friends over the festive season.
When you sing of the joy only love can bring
Heaven knows it’s in my heart and my soul
We're caught in a world full of tears
So many bad times and fears
So while there’s a chance and you’re near
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