I still remember that Catechesis period in school when the sub – an angry old Catholic priest, ranted about a big part of our Christmas traditions and their pagan roots. He dissed it all, the tree, the lights, the ornaments, the Yule log and in the end funneled all his anger on Santa Claus. What was once a virtuous representation of the St. Nicholas figure became a pagan demon set out to turn people away from the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of Christ the savior.
I had always wondered about the origins of our Christmas traditions and if they had any Christian significance, but tracing them back to pagan customs was the kind of eye-opener I wish I never had.
Of course I had long stopped believing in Santa and I didn’t doubt he was a fictional character, but the mere realization that the whole magic of the Christmas Spirit that stamped me for good as a kid could have been based on pagan traditions definitely robbed me at that moment of the tinsel I always saw around Christmas.
That’s when it all started – the war on Santa.
I began seeing as if for the first time the hyper-materialization of the holiday season and the consumerist spirit that quickly replaced what little left I had of the Christmas Spirit. I started noticing the widespread secularization of maybe the biggest Christian celebration other than Easter, all in order to mold it or better yet market it into something more politically correct to please everyone. What was originally the celebration of the coming of the savior of all mankind got modified ironically to market better to all of mankind.
I quickly realized that it wasn’t about Jesus anymore. It was about everything except Jesus and this pissed me off… a lot.
I took it upon myself to fight to save Christmas from the claws of secularism and became one of those that you would often hear protesting, “It’s Christmas not X-mas!”, “Jesus is the reason behind the season”, “It’s Merry Christmas not Season’s Greetings”, “Last Christmas is not a Christmas Carol!”.
But what I realized also that in my attempts to keep Christmas about Christ for other people, I was struggling to bring about something in my own efforts and I certainly wasn’t having a good time at it. Christmas wasn’t feeling any more magical for me and the Christmas Spirit was something I resolved only children experience and as they grow up try to hold on to as much they can as it starts slipping slowly but inevitably from their fingertips.
Most importantly, I realized I was setting God on the side-tracks in this whole matter. I was nullifying God’s divine might and instead perpetuating that God needed me to fend for him. As if God found himself in a situation he wasn’t prepared for and had to call upon my and a number of other Christmas Rangers’ powers to get him out of this ditch where people have swerved from celebrating his coming on earth and have gone back to worshiping idols. This time there was a new idol in town and his name was Santa.
But God wasn’t in fact standing aside, arms-folded like I had portrayed him to be. God had never stopped working but I only needed eyes to see what he was up to and it wasn’t until I surrendered it all back to him that I began to see what he was really doing.
When I forfeited the “war on Santa” I began to see how God had impacted people through Christmas without them knowing it was him pulling the strings backstage. I began to see the whole of creation at Christmas-time gravitating towards gift-giving, feeding the poor, caring for the fatherless and the widow and being of good cheer. I began to see people from all beliefs and origins partaking in the joy, peace and love that Christmas brings, the very things that Jesus came on earth to give.
This year I started teaching music in a Christian school for girls located in a rather Muslim area and as a result all my students are Muslim teenage girls. What was very surprising to me though was the holistic acceptance I discovered in the Muslim community for Christmas. Last Friday I was invited to attend a Christmas celebration at the school right before they headed off for the holidays and it was genuinely heartwarming for me to see my students up on stage joyfully singing Christmas carols and acting in skits about the meaning of Christmas – something they had been practicing on for the past couple of months – knowing that not one of them is Christian.
Do they know that the Christmas tree is a pagan invention? No. Do they know that Santa’s story has nothing to do with Christianity? No. Do they know that the worldly Christmas celebration isn’t any more about Jesus than it is about bells, stockings and turkey? No. Do they love Christmas? Yes. Do they enjoy it? You can bet your mince pies they do.
The reason? It’s because they accept Christmas the only way Christmas can be accepted, like a child, just like I did before that blessed Catechesis period.