I love Christmas. I grew up in a family that loved Christmas. It’s funny too say but the odds are my family likes Christmas more than yours does! So there:)
When I was growing up my grandpa Bernie kicked Christmas off every year on Grey Cup Weekend, he loved trees in the house and cheap knickknacks that dance and sing, tinsel and cheese, and yes beer, so much that we had weeks and weeks of time to celebrate the birth of the saviour, grandpa thought you could never have too much family time and if colourful lights made it more playful then put up as many strings as you have electrical outlets. I miss him.
Consequently, I love Christmas so much I even look forward to watching Nailed It! with my kids and hearing them cackle at the reveals (I am no baker and have literally zero interest in baking).
I love Christmas so much I even look forward to watching the movies with my wife, you know the ones.
I love Christmas so much my poor, patient, persevering wife just rolls her eyes with a sweet familiarity when I come up with “one more gift” or “one more decoration.”
Lots of people love Christmas this way. Turkey, presents, lights, chocolates, decadence, family friends, and alcohol…some even love it as a time to be charitable.
All of this leads to a question: how do I (we) as faithful Christians who will continue to attend worship services, continue to make donations to causes we believe Christ would recognize himself in, “do” Christmas? Is it even possible to do it in a way that stands out as holy? As marking a religious time with soul-resonant importance?
Someone suggested to me recently that we seek to “observe” the season. That we intentionally and verbally “observe” the time as religious folks.
Observe largely has two meanings, first and most often: to watch, or to notice, we observe a bird flying or how a a grandpa shows love and leads a family. The other meaning, less used but still well-known and recognized, is to adhere to the rules and ways a of a religion (think “observant Jew” as delineated from ethnic Jew and you will understand the subtlety).
This second understanding of observant has to do with what we might call devoutness, or practicing. A nominal Christian is someone who is “Christian” in name only but for whom it is a minor adjective not terribly important (if at all) to their way of life. An observant Christian is one for whom the title matters more deeply and is permitted a place of priority such that it changes the very actions and decisions of the person.
Of course, when it comes to Christmas the challenge is that there is a sense in which our whole culture becomes nominal christians with angels in the music and rustic shed scenes with wise men. (Yes, I know some are very opposed to it all and stick to Santa Clause and Coca Cola, but even with that I imagine most of us can agree that the majority culture—whatever that is—still largely coalesces around Christmas, this starts even before Halloween in many stores where I live).
How then to be distinct? How then to “do Christmas as a Christian”?
I worry this will sound overly pious but I truly think if one prays about this question one will receive their own path forward. Some may be inspired to attend an advent bible study or read a daily advent devotional, some may wish to sing a particularly christian carol every day, some may double their givings, others will volunteer, some will practice hospitality, some will visit the sick, the lonely, the grieving. None of us has to do it all, that’s why I think praying for our unique path forward is such a good idea. I mean really, even though my family always kicked off Christmas at the Grey Cup doesn’t mean anyone else should, or even that I should every year now.
The seasons of life change and so what we did in the past need not drive what we do this year. Seasons with littles at home and seasons without them are different, seasons when buying the turkey stretches the budgets and seasons when we don’t even look at the price are different.
To observe Christmas might not have as single universal practice, we are free to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.
So I suggest to you a most simple prayer as Advent gets closer, “Lord, show me how you would have me observe advent this year, and grant me the grace, the wisdom, and the courage, to do as you ask.”