There have been so many well-meant reminders at this time each year that we should “put Christ back into Christmas” that I found myself gradually foregoing many traditions and ‘secular’ activities that used to make Christmas so special.
Somehow, I had come to believe that the Christmas revelry, the fun, the shopping, painting of the house, putting up the decorations, baking etc. were distractions from the ‘spirituality’ of the Saviour’s birth. So I gradually dropped these, tried to focus on Christ, and felt many a Christmas go by without any real celebration or joy. Admittedly, my mum’s transition to eternal life two years ago was part of it, but truth be told, we had become quite jaded about Christmas celebrations even before that.
Last week, a friend in LA was chatting to me on her preparations: decorations were up and she had made a feast of traditional sweets to share with her non-Sri Lankan neighbours. Someone else had made a beautiful gingerbread house. It was a joy to just look at the intricate work of art and love. My Buddhist neighbour had his Christmas tree lights twinkling last week. When I went into Colombo to collect my reading glasses, I found the streets crowded with people shopping, meeting, eating, just being happy.
The world had moved into Christmas.
The religious minded say it is the “secularization” of Christmas: That the shopping feasting, and partying is not the ‘true spirit of Christmas’ – but it did make wonder about the adage “putting Christ back into Christmas”.
For one, much as you may try, you cannot take Christ out of the word Christmas which at least by its very definition has Christ in it.
It struck me that it does not behoove us to stop the world from enjoying Christmas – each in their own way. The very fact that the Christmas season brings joy, gladness, hope, exultancy to many should be for us Christians a source of greatest happiness and joy ourselves – for this is the reason the Saviour came – to set humanity free.
So if a weary world, burdened for eleven months of the year, takes delight in celebrating Christmas with merriment and secular diversions, I think we ought to give thanks that even in some unconscious way Christmas becomes a time of greatest joy in the world. St. Ireneaus said “Man fully alive is the glory of God.” Do we really truly want to change that joy and happiness that is associated with Christmas?
On another deeper level, through the incarnation, God permeated all aspects of life on earth. The mystics call it the sacralization of the mundane. There is nothing and nowhere that Christ is not present – whether it be in our joys and sorrows, in the saint or in the sinner. Our Catechism teaches that God is every-where so we surely have to believe this includes the shops, streets, parties, games that are part of human activities.
I venture to say that mistletoe and wine, and all it stands for thus become sacred celebrations of the divine birth that brought such joy to the earth.
So whilst recognizing the irrelevance of attempts to put Christ into Christmas amongst these supposedly ‘worldly’ activities, let us on the other hand, help those deprived of the same worldly joy to enjoy some of this abundance of joy. The lonely, the homeless, and abandoned; those confined to bed, to prisons, to streets; those struggling to make ends meet: Let us bring them too into the wealth and joyous celebrations of humanity.