Christians can celebrate with deep and genuine joy

By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist

I hope you’re having a great Christmas. If our hearts are really prepared for it, it can be such a wonderful time.

I know. A lot about the way our society “celebrates” Christmas is nothing to celebrate. In fact, as Andrew Greeley writes, some aspects of the sometimes-not-so-holy “holy-day” might make us tempted to run from the whole thing: “It might be easy to run away to a monastery, away from the commercialization, the hectic hustle, the demanding family responsibilities of Christmastime. Then we would have a holy Christmas.”

He warns, though: “But we would forget the lesson of the Incarnation, of the enfleshing of God — the lesson that we who are followers of Christ do not run from the secular; rather, we try to transform it. It is our mission to make holy the secular aspects of Christmas just as the early Christians baptized the Christmas tree. And we do this by being holy people — kind, patient, generous, loving, laughing people — no matter how maddening is the Christmas rush.”

By George, I think he’s got it.
C.S. Lewis wrote similarly, observing that a small child cannot really separate “the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter.” Lewis appreciated both the poetry and the piety of the little boy reported to have gone about on Easter morning muttering a poem he’d made up about “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.”

“Of course,” Lewis writes, “the time will come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity.” One day, Lewis says, the child will realize that the spiritual aspects of Easter are different from the festive aspects, and he will have to put one or the other aspect first and choose what is most important. We all get to that point. Do we major on egg-hunting or on the Resurrection? Or, for us at Christmastide, do we major on Santa Claus or on God in the flesh at Bethlehem?

In making the choice, people tend to make two mistakes.
One serious mistake is to choose rightly to major on the real reason for the season but to decide that necessitates also adopting a dour pseudo-piety that says, “Out with lights and Christmas trees and all the other festive trappings of the holiday. Humbug!”

But the other mistake is even worse — to refuse to celebrate such days as religious holidays at all and focus only on egg hunts and Rudolph.

As Lewis writes, “If the child puts the spiritual first, he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first, they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.”

Christians who know the real meaning of the holy days should celebrate everything that is good about them with more joy than other people and not less. If we truly love Christ more than Christmas, then we’re free to love Christmas with a freedom and genuine joy we could never have otherwise. God is so good.

It’s nonsense to thank Santa for God. It may be very good sense indeed to thank God for Santa.