The full impact of the birth of the Messiah or the Christ is impossible to comprehend; in any case, it is well beyond my present ability. What exactly would this world be like today if Jesus had never been born so long ago? What would my world be like for that matter or yours? Probing questions to be sure.
What do you think? Would it be better or worse or pretty much the same down here? More to the point, what would this world be like without the celebration of Christmas?
For what it’s worth, here is what I think:
Things probably wouldn’t be that much different, that is if Christmas was nothing more than an excuse to get together with family and friends, have a feast, and exchange a few gifts. The birth of Christ really isn’t required in order to do that; and surely other arrangements could be made. For example, somebody in Parliament could pick any old day of the year and declare it to be “National-gift-giving-and-family-gathering-day.” Better yet, someone in the United Nations could stand up and make an articulate motion to have a global family celebration day of sorts established for no particular reason.
Wouldn’t that be nice? We could all get together and celebrate the idea of celebrating without having to bother with having much of anything to celebrate. Woohoo.
And not much would change if Christmas turned out to be mostly about getting a break from school or a having a few days off at work. Again, there are many other scenarios that would work just fine. Any number of reasons would do. Holidays are not that hard to come by. Cold weather routinely shuts the school system down here in Saskatchewan. A few years ago a nasty ice storm shut everything down for a good while in Quebec.
If all you want is a holiday, paying attention to something as basic and boring as the weather is good enough.
It would be possible to schedule a December 25th “Storm Day” and annually celebrate (i.e. take the day off) whether any storms felt inclined to show up or not. Yes, winter and the whole chilly experience could easily become the focus if Christmas came across as just another “Day-off-day.” There could be Winter programs in the schools. There could be songs about snowmen, roasting chestnuts on open fires, and freezing your fanny when it’s forty below.
People suffering in warmer climates would, of course, have to establish their own musical traditions.
But we could all join together merrily in song simply because we happen to like singing and not because we collectively feel that there is anything of real significance to sing about. For many people, singing is an enjoyable experience. Singing about anything would do; it wouldn’t really matter. Songs about randomly launching snow balls at cars driving by on the street could be added to the repertoire of carols. Who knows? They might be a big hit.
Finally, if the point is all about maintaining a nominal cultural celebration that will serve to unify a group of people, Christmas could fade away without much consequence in a heartbeat. Mind you, any number of ideologies would be sure to take its place. And that might not be a whole lot of fun as the years go by. But some sort of unity, whether it is chosen or forced, wouldn’t be a problem. You could count on that.
While living in Eastern Europe, I heard about how the celebration of Christmas had been banned during the Communist years. These people apparently had very few reservations when it came to imposing their views on others.
And yet, I can’t see how the loss of Christmas as it is presently celebrated would make much of a difference. For to the extent that Christmas has become all about getting together with family, enjoying good food, opening presents, and having time off…the Christmas celebration seems to have become disconnected from, well, Christmas.
Family, food, and fun times is all fine and good. But there is more to celebrate than that if you claim to be celebrating Christmas. And to be fair, perhaps I am now also speaking to myself.
Christmas is a reminder of a historical event with very real implications. Christmas is a celebration of everything that Christ has accomplished in the past and will accomplish in the future. As I mentioned, there is more here than I claim to fully understand. But I can see that a genuine, an authentic, Christmas celebration makes a positive difference.
A large-scale celebration counts insofar as this suggests that Christianity, as opposed to the latest naturalistic philosophy or militant religious movement or designer spirituality, is still the unofficial and unspoken center of Western civilization. For whether you like it or not, a large number of people living out a firm belief in the Christmas message has far-reaching consequences.
“Merry” is an old word but it still seems to work just fine. For there is much that is merry about Christmas.