Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, for Jesus Is Born

Penny and William last Christmas

For a few years now, I’ve talked about “American Christmas” and “Christian Christmas,” and I’ve decided that as a family we observe both. For American Christmas we sing songs about Santa and decorate the living room. For Christian Christmas we have a Birthday Party for Jesus and a manger scene. But recently I’ve realized that the materialism of Christmas is, ironically, both not-at-all Christian– in the careless spending and disregard for the spiritual overtones of the season– and yet that same materialism is also incredibly Christian. Christianity is not an other-worldly religion, but one rooted in material reality from start to finish, especially, as it happens, in the Incarnation of Christ, the very moment that Spirit became flesh.

I read an essay in USA Today a few weeks back, “Let’s Put ‘Christ-mas’ in its Place” in which Amy Sullivan argues that we should take Christ out of Christmas:

I know what you’re thinking: What about “the reason for the season”? But that’s precisely my point. Do Christians really want to think of the son of God as the reason for reduced-price waffle-makers and winter wonderland scenes at the local mall? That sounds like Ricky Bobby‘s baby Jesus from the movie Talladega Nights, not the babe whose arrival is heralded in the Gospel of Luke. The battle for the soul of Christmas ended a long time ago, and cultural forces won. That’s clear when Christmas trees fill homes and apartments in Japan, a country where 2% of the population is Christian.

I used to agree with her. I remember sitting in church on Christmas Eve and asking my mother why the couple behind us was so loud (“They’ve had a little too much to drink, sweetie.”) Or trying to figure out how buying a sweater to my sister has anything to do with the God of Heaven becoming God with Us. Or trying to explain to my children how Jesus’ birthday connects to mistletoe, eggnog, molasses spice cookies, and stockings.

But now I’m wondering, should Christians be heading up the line and proclaiming the ways in which Christmas, in all its over-the-top spending and Santa suits and festivities. is as Christian as it gets? I wrote an essay for Motherlode of the New York Times last year, A Spiritual Defense of Gifts, in which I argued:

At Christmastime, materialism should be a blessing.

Yes, it can be wasteful. It can become hedonistic. And yet there is a spiritual dimension to gift-giving. From a Christian perspective, giving gifts reflects the celebration of the gift of God’s son on Christmas morn. Moreover, it reflects the idea that God has entered into the material world, and through that entrance, God has declared that the material world is good and worth celebrating, if not in excess then at least through extravagant generosity.

This year, I’m taking the sentiment even further. Instead approaching the season with reticence, Christians above all have reason to buy presents. To celebrate. To enjoy the family time and the good food and the proclamation that God has demonstrated love beyond love by entering our world in the form of a baby. So if you are a Christian celebrating Christmas–hang those lights and sing Hallelujah. Eat, drink, and be merry, for Jesus is born.

About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).

Comments

  1. Shari Dragovich says:

    How wonderful – and confirming! This morning in our advent devotion time, I read to my children on the topic of ‘Santa Claus’; the history, legend and on-going theme he brings of lavish gift-giving. We talked about the anticipation and excitement mounds, as the wrapped gifts begin overflowing the space between tree boughs and floor; or of coming down the stairs on Christmas morning and seeing the abundance of gifts for them – especially chosen for each one; lavishly given – not because they deserve or earned these gifts – but because each one was thought of specifically and with deep love from the gift giver.

    It was a beautiful picture painted of the ultimate Gift-Giver.

    I’ve struggled in the past with my desire to lavish my loved ones with good gifts – spending money on worldly “stuff”. But, I don’t ‘feel’ worldly in the giving. Every year I am overwhelmed with thankfulness at being able to give. Humbled at the extreme generosity of God to senselessly provide.

    Thank you for your boldness in writing, Amy Julia. I have been blessed by it this morning and know others will be as well.

  2. ralph1waldo says:

    AJ, the Puritans knew that Christmas was in essence a pagan holiday, derived from the solstice celebration that held sacred the festooned tree as a symbol of fertility at the advent of the dead months — and they banned its celebration in Colonial New England. What does Christmas really have to do with the birth of the Christian Messiah or the person called Jesus, whoever he really was? Shouldn’t we be honest in acknowledging the true roots of this holiday as a continuation of the harvest celebration that has been largely co-opted by modern consumerism? If we value historical integrity, shouldn’t we concede that its links to the religion created around the person of Jesus are weak, and that travailing to “keep Christ in Christmas” does not strengthen either the historical or theological arguments for orthodox Christianity in the world today?

    • Two thoughts… One, that Christianity has always been a religion of translation. Beginning with Jesus himself, the “Word made flesh,” and continuing with the translation of the Bible, the Word of God, it is a faith that is not bound by culture and tradition. Rather, it can be translated and incorporated into any and every culture. Other people have written about this at greater length and with more knowledge than I have: Lamin Saneh, for instance, wrote Whose Christianity Is It? and authors like Darrell Guder (Missional Church) and David Bosch (Transforming Mission). In other words, Christians took a pagan holiday and translated it into Christian terms, or they took a Christian celebration and translated it into terms their culture would understand.


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