Christmas is a Christian holy day and cultural holiday

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December 2008


Christmas has its roots in the infancy narratives of Jesus of Nazareth as found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in the Bible. It has its cultural celebration from the mingling of religion and culture over many decades in this country.

            This commingling of the sacred and cultural makes it difficult for some people to celebrate Christmas in a way that emphasizes the true meaning of Christmas. They feel the cultural aspects infringe on their freedom to practice their religion. The public religious celebration of Christmas is becoming even more difficult as the nation becomes even more religiously pluralistic. Even among Christians Christmas has different meanings.

            The cultural celebration of Christmas has already begun. We could hear Christmas carols in early November or before. People are engaged in shopping for presents for loved ones, co-workers  and friends. They are busily planning Christmas parties at work or at home. Christmas cards are purchased and mailed with newsletters or just a greeting.

            Soon will come the travel of millions of people wanting to gather with family and others at this most special time of year. Trees will be set up and decorated with ornaments and lights reflecting new and old traditions.

            On the other hand the Christian celebration of Christmas begins on December 25 and continues for “twelve days”, a celebration lost on most people except in the non-religious sounding carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Christmas Day itself for some begins with Midnight Mass or some worship service on Christmas Eve or early on Christmas Day. There may be special prayers or readings at home to commemorate the birth of Jesus. This is all done in the midst of the cultural trappings noted above.

            But wait a minute! All those cultural activities could well be part and parcel of the religious tradition if only the attitudes, tone, and messages are immersed in religious sentiments.

            We can shop with an attitude of gratitude and not commercialism. We can send greeting cards that reflect the meaning of Christmas whether we are Christian or not. We can sing Christmas carols with joy. We can soon be in the spirit of Christmas whether Christian, non-Christian, or atheist.

            The “spirit of Christmas” I am referring to can be found in Jesus’ own proclamation of his mission on earth that he read from Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."  (New American Bible Luke 4:18-19)

We bring glad tidings to the poor whenever we purchase and wrap a gift for the Sharing Tree, help at Open Door or another soup kitchen, sponsor a family in the Salvation Army’s Adopt a Family program, participate in the DNR Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger program,1607,7-153--202934--,00.html, donate time or money to Habitat for Humanity, donate to the Emergency Food Pantry, and participate in other outreach to those in need.

We proclaim liberty to captives of sickness, depression, or addiction by helping them be released from these binding conditions.

We help restore sight to the blind literally by providing rides, reading for them, and teaching them Braille, by tutoring those in need of further education, and by helping sighted people to see their blinders and prejudices.

We let the oppressed go free by providing a voice to those left out of the decision making process at all levels due to financial, educational, or health limitations.

We help those in prison through advocating rehabilitation programs in our jails and prisons rather than punishment, promoting healthy prison conditions and health care, and opposing capital punishment.

            The practical application of Jesus’ mission involves very human activities that reach across all religious divisions.  What better time to accept these challenges than at Christmas, especially in these troubling economic times?

            Merry Christmas, one and all!