What is Christmas?

A few years back, Sesame Street put out a Christmas special called “Elmo Saves Christmas.” Elmo meets Santa Claus and is granted three wishes. So for his first wish – he wishes for a glass of water to prove that the wishes are real. He gets his glass of water, and then the next day he’s so excited about Christmas that he wishes it could be Christmas every day. It turns out to be exciting at first, but all that celebrating really wears people out, so Elmo realizes that maybe having Christmas every day isn’t the best idea, and he puts things back the way they were.

            Now, admit it, how many of you have ever wanted to have Christmas more than once a year? Christmas is such an exciting time of the year, we want every day to be that exciting, but our wallets and our sanity can’t handle giving presents to each other and traveling to see family all the time. We wait for special times of the year to do these big celebrations because it’s just not feasible to celebrate like this all the time. But that doesn’t mean that celebrating Christmas is something that only happens once a year. We’ve all heard that we’re supposed to take Christmas with us throughout the year, it’s the message of just about every other Christmas special, including Elmo saves Christmas. But how are we actually supposed to accomplish that? Isn’t that just a nice sentiment that fades away after January first? Except, of course, for people who run year round Christmas shops or shopping for next Christmas in January. Christmas can mean so much more if we realize that December 25th is the height of the Christmas season, not the beginning and end of it. And you can take steps now, during Christmas, to be sure that Christmas stays with you throughout the year.

            In order to do that, we have to figure out what is Christmas, and what isn’t. There are, I believe, two different holidays celebrated on December 25th, and each of them is called Christmas. One is the Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus and gives thanks to God for the greatest present any of us has ever received. We celebrate that holiday by singing songs, having church services, reading and remembering the Christmas story, and giving away gifts just like God gave us the gift of Christ.

            But then there’s that other Christmas, the Christmas celebrated by the Hallmark Channel, Kohl’s, and politicians running for office. This secular Christmas has its origins in the Christian celebration of Christmas, just like our celebration of Christmas has its origins in Roman celebrations of the sun god and German druidic rituals. But just like the Christian Christmas is no longer a pagan holiday, secular Christmas is no longer a Christian holiday. Secular Christmas asks you to buy more presents, to compete for the best tasting Christmas cookies, to have a better display of lights than your neighbor. Sometimes it’s easy to tell if you’re looking at secular Christmas, like commercials that ask you to buy more presents so your family will love you more, or the Great Christmas Light Fight reality show that pushes us to buy more lights and decorations. Sometimes it’s harder to tell, like with Christian businesses asking us to buy presents from their stores for Christmas. But in the end, it comes down to one thing: you cannot serve both God and wealth. Christmas, like no other season, makes us choose between serving God and serving money, and it’s difficult to figure out where the line is sometimes. But if you want to take Christmas with you throughout the year, you have to be sure that you’re taking the right version of Christmas with you: the one that asks us to be loving, generous, and faithful, not the one that asks us to spend our money and be better than everyone else.