Tuesday nights are an online chat time for AmblesideOnline, and I was reminded this week that there are many different perspectives on Christmas, even within the North American Christian community. Some of us make a deliberate choice to "celebrate the Christian year," following the seasons of Advent, Christmas and so on with influences such as Martha Zimmerman's book of the same title. Others make just as deliberate (and often more difficult) a choice not to celebrate one particular day at all, or at least not to celebrate Christmas Day as Jesus' birthday. A few have chosen another time of year to celebrate, such as the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles in the fall (or in January if you're Ukrainian). And some are kind of in the middle, trying to figure out what fits with their convictions, what reflects their relationship with Jesus and what can or should be left aside. Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, or nothing of that sort at all? Jesse Trees, Christmas Trees, no trees? Lots of presents, three presents (to reflect the three gifts given to Jesus), no presents? Hot chocolate, wine, or carrot juice? Handel, Celtic, Christian-bookstore-pop, Bing Crosby, or even (gasp) Elvis in the CD player?
And none of this is exactly new. Christians have disagreed for centuries over how to celebrate Christmas, or whether to celebrate it at all; how much pre-Christian tradition or mythology should be included, whether trees are in fact those gold and silver idols mentioned by the prophet, or whether the ancient symbols can be or should be "Christianized." (Does or doesn't the candy cane have religious significance?)
This article by Stephen D. Greydanus gets into an interesting discussion of whether A Christmas Carol promotes a Christian or secular view of Christmas. Some have accused Dickens of actually being a major contributor towards the "happy-holidays" kind of celebration. Greydanus discusses C.S. Lewis's point that the story contains very little mention of Christ; but he also presents G.K. Chesterton's argument that, in fact, Dickens' work is "not a work of Christian imagination, but it is a work profoundly affected by Christian imagination, and the significance of the story's Christian roots becomes more marked the further contemporary culture drifts from those roots. Not only is it essentially a morality tale, and a conversion story at that, but it takes seriously the idea of consequences in the next life for our actions in this life." (That's from the article, not directly from Chesterton.)
Dickens' Christmas spirits may be, as Lewis observed, "of his own invention," yet they are still agents of grace; Chesterton considers them suggestive of "that truly exalted order of angels who are correctly called High Spirits" ("Dickens and Christmas").I certainly don't have the last word for anyone on how or even whether to celebrate Christmas. We choose to prepare our hearts during Advent, to celebrate in every way we can think of during Christmas (that's twelve days long, by the way (grin)), and to finish off with the Three Kings on Epiphany (and yes, I do know there were probably many more than three, and they weren't necessarily kings). It's something we're still working on--choosing what music, what decorations, what traditions mean the most to us and communicate what we believe the season is about. I'm grateful for the insight of those who have shared very different perspectives on this, and I am rejoicing that our goal, in the end, is the same: to glorify Christ every day.