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The Spirit of Christmas

Published on 24 December 2022

It seems cliché in these times to point out that the spirit of Christmas is gone somewhere. Yet it is tremendously difficult to point out where it’s gone, why it’s gone, and perhaps most importantly, what it was. It’s just fashionable to say that it’s gone, and leave it at that.
Some say that it was replaced by the spirit of Christmas shopping, the omnipresent commercialisation of the atmosphere with Coca-Cola Santa Clauses, cheap polyester red hats, and even cheaper plastic decorations that go up after Halloween and disappear on the evening of the twenty-fifth. It’s even more fashionable, especially among the Puritan-descended liberals who say that it’s good that it’s gone, that it is not inclusive enough, that there are many other winter holidays that people celebrate (they don’t), that it’s backwards and medieval. Others still focus on the nostalgia, stuck in the “good old days,” turning Christmas into another All Souls Day, remembering relatives who passed away and reminisce about how the olden days used to be better, that the carols used to be nicer, the Christmas tree greener, the gifts brought more happiness.
Some friends of mine say that Christmas is much nicer when there are children around. That children make them care about the festivities more, that because of the kids they put in more effort. When there aren’t children around, they don’t really want to bother with dressing up the tree, packing gifts, cooking dinner. Just open up a bottle of some nicer wine, order sushi, watch Netflix. Or just hop on a plane and go on holiday to somewhere where it’s a bit warmer, to get away from the insufferable extended family.
I don’t know about any of it, really.
Christmas was just okay when I was an atheist. An occasion to get together with the family. A nice dinner together, in an era where everyone is already so busy that there is no opportunity to eat together. For the rest of the year everyone would just heat up leftovers and consume them in a rush in front of the television or the computer screen. It was nice to sing Christmas pop songs, to open up presents, to look at the pretty tree.
But when you look at it through the lens of the faith, all of these things are just the shiny silver wrapping of the real gift inside. What the true joy of our existence is is far removed from the post-human and post-God polyester Santa hat. Yes, it’s nice to sing Silent Night in a dozen different languages, to eat dinner together, to open up presents, but that’s just the circumstance, the wrapping. The gift is not the shiny wrapping, the sense of our being is beyond the tree, the dinner, the presents, the ribbons and the cheap plastic stuff. Yet, the first to complain of the commercialised atmosphere of Christmas are rarely the first to mention the birthday boy.
Christianity needs Christ to exist, but the Christ doesn’t need Christianity for the fullness of his glory. That’s why Christmas is a celebration of the Child, the Nativity, the Life. A particular Child, Nativity and Life. And that’s why it needs to move beyond the wrapping, every year, because every year we all seem to collectively forget it.
We celebrate life, life that triumphs over death. There is, indeed, often a moment of nostalgia caused by the missing people at the Christmas dinner table, but there is also joy at the ones that are there, and weren’t the previous year. And there is hope. But the hope is not for the return of the “better days” that have come and gone, but for the new day that is to come, tomorrow, next year, and in the next world.
The old are consumed by nostalgia, the young are consumed by bitterness. When they try to celebrate, it’s a marathon of gift wrapping air, just a day off to eat pizza and ice-cream looking at a screen under a blanket, or a two-month-late ritual of seeking closeness to the deceased. None of the three has anything in particular to do with Christianity.
But as everyone who glimpsed the nature of the solemnity of the nativity of the Lord, we are above all of this. We walk straight up among those crawling on their knees. We have to, there’s no other way, once one has the understanding of what is going on. Yes, we will spare a prayer for the dead. Yes, we will glance with aversion towards that one particular relative, chastising ourselves to remember that love is overcoming the inimity.
What makes us walk straight up is that we are all the Church. We received the grace of faith, by no merit of our own. It’s not a matter of our birth, or our status, or our nationality, or our race. We are above all of it because we know that the 25th of December is the celebration of life. The birth of the Christ. The day the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us. The rising sun.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And when we weep and pray on Christmas Day, we weep and pray for those who did not attain this grace. For those who sit in the night, playing with a piece of wrapping paper in their fingers.