What makes Christmas, Christmas?

It’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas! 

I was thinking that last week when we had the snowstorm blow through. It’s not even technically winter yet and I had to pull out the snowblower! But the snow really started to put me into the Christmas Spirit! We got our tree up, decorations out, and stockings hung by the fire with care. 

The snow’s gone for now, but the lights are out and the shopping is almost done for us (yay!)! And it’s still feeling a lot like Christmas. But what does that mean, “it’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas,” anyway? What makes Christmas, Christmas? 

Maybe, it’s the lights and the decorations that make Christmas, Christmas? I mean, they look so festive with reindeer and grinches and blow-up baby yodas all around. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel like Christmas. The string of LED lights this year didn’t work so well and we went through three different strings of lights before we could light up our wreath. As we were driving home from a friend’s house last night, there was a poor blow up Santa that was supposed to be standing tall, but had fallen down and was blowing across the yard. It doesn’t seem to matter how much we want them to; the decorations all fall limp, and the lights all go out eventually. The lights and decorations are not Christmas, but they can point to what Christmas is all about. 

Maybe it’s the presents that make Christmas, Christmas? In 2019 American consumers alone spent 1 trillion dollars and over 15 hours on Christmas shopping. The iconic picture of Christmas is a prettily decorated tree with presents festively wrapped, stacked neatly underneath. Whenever someone sees a picture that looks like that, they think Christmas. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel like Christmas. The presents are eventually all opened and sometimes forgotten just as quickly. The wrapping paper is all gathered up and put in trash bags or thrown into a fire. There is a reason the return lines at department stores all around the country are enormous the day after Christmas. The presents are not Christmas, but they can point to what Christmas is all about. 

Maybe it’s Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, the reindeer and the elf on the shelf, that make Christmas, Christmas? Nothing quite says Christmas like the jolly old guy and Rudolph flying through the night to deliver presents to nice kids (but not naughty). I’ve even heard that the Elf on the Shelf has even taken to texting some children if he can’t sit on their shelf because of COVID. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel like Christmas. Like, why is Christmas always in trouble? Almost every single Christmas movie out there has something to do with Christmas being threatened once again. Even the tradition of Santa Claus is one way that we honor the Christian Pastor Saint Nicolas who cared for the poor, widowed, and children during his ministry. Even Santa and the elf on the shelf are not Christmas, but they can point to what Christmas is all about. 

All of these Christmas things are fun, but they don’t make Christmas, Christmas. Christmas is more secure than that. Sometimes decorations don’t get up or we don’t have the heart to put them up at all. Sometimes presents become more stressful than they are worth or we miss the people who we used to buy presents for that aren’t with us anymore. Sometimes, it feels like Santa isn’t going to come and, if he does, he’s bringing coal that year because it’s been a rough year and I haven’t been very good. 

What would happen if it was all taken away: the lights and the decorations, the presents and Santa, even the Elf on the Shelf, and every other thing you can think of that makes it feel a lot like Christmas? Would it still be Christmas? Well…. It might not feel like Christmas, to be honest with you. If we take all of those things away it might not feel like Christmas at all, it might feel kind of empty and plain. But would it still be Christmas? Of course, it would. Isn’t that what the Grinch and Cindy Lou learned after the Grinch tried to steal Christmas? 

Because what makes Christmas, Christmas happened on a night 2,000 years ago. There weren’t any trees or decorations, there weren’t even any presents (those came about 3 years later), and there definitely wasn’t Santa (he wasn’t born yet) or Mrs. Claus, or the Elf on the Shelf, or anything else that makes Christmas feel like Christmas. There was a baby born to a virgin and watched over by a carpenter with angels in the sky and shepherds watching their flocks at night. That first Christmas day and every Christmas day, what makes Christmas, Christmas is that baby in the manger, called Emmanuel, God with Us. Baby Jesus. Christ in Christmas. God with us in Jesus never changes so Christmas is still always Christmas, even if everything else goes away. 

What makes Christmas, Christmas? Jesus.

That’s an important lesson for all of us to learn this Christmas. Not just for Christmas, but for ourselves as well. It’s not about the lights or the presents and it’s also not about the clothes or the truck, the house or the job, or even the shape or size of the body (even if you look like an Elf on the shelf or Santa or something in between). No, what makes you, you? What gives you worth and meaning, that can never be taken away from you, is the baby in the manger, Immanuel, God with us. That will never change. 

So, what makes you, you and Christmas, Christmas, even if it doesn’t always feel like it? Jesus. 

Published by philipmcclelland.org

​I am a recovering burned out workaholic​ who forgot I couldn't change the world. From the ashes of that not only have I found a peace from God that I never knew but a focus on what matters, God, family and loving my neighbor as God has loved me. My burning out experiences really drive my writing and how much I want to share all of the good God has worked through the hurt I've experienced. Currently I serve a great little parish in Northern Ohio with my wonderful family and our furry farm of five dogs, four cats and the oddball handful of fish. You can find me at www.philipmcclelland.org.

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