Alisha likes to tell people I am a total Christmas Grinch and, in part, she’s right -- I was not made for the Christmas season. The Biblical story of an incredibly poor, young family giving birth to a fragile God in a feeding trough sits in such contrast to the current seasonal mania filled with a surplus of Santas and nostalgic music -- all revolving around gift buying.
So, as we spend our first year in Barcelona reflecting on how we want to celebrate as a family, I’d like to share a message from God to the Israelites:
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24 NRSV)
Christmas, named after the “Mass of Christ,” has become an abomination to its name. I can’t imagine a time of year that inversely reflects the values of Christ more strongly. In what world does it make sense to take Jesus, a radical revolutionary set on guerrilla global transformation, and associate him with consumerism, the fulfillment of personal wants, needs, and ritualistic religion?
Yet this is where we stand.
I hear of Christians getting upset when people say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Marry Christmas" because it perverts the meaning of the season. Whereas I'm upset the birth of the Prince of Peace is marked by seasonal Black Friday violence at shopping centers. In my opinion, Christians should be much more upset that the birth of the Christ, who calls his followers to leave all things behind and follow him, is largely celebrated by the amassing of things.
The money changers are in our sacred temple -- at what point do we decide they need to go?
Let’s go back to the Amos passage. The audience -- Israelites at the zenith of their Old Testament power -- are being shown what religious folks tend to offer God and we are being told what God actually wants us to give: justice and righteousness. The implication is that, if those things are not present in our religious celebrations, the rest is despicable.
To be clear, I don't think sharing gifts for Christmas is inherently bad, but this act has little to do with the significance of the birth of Jesus. Moreover, when the significance of the birth and life of Christ gets lost in all the noise, that's a serious problem for those of us who take Jesus seriously. We need to be careful: Jesus would want any holiday associated with him to be celebrated fully and equally by all who want...so any expectations that carry a price tag can be poisonous.
This year, we are excited to engage in new seasonal traditions here in our new home:
- We can’t wait to give Asher his first Caga Tió experience on December 24, but we will also tell him directly, “This is a fun tradition, but this is not Christmas.”
- We are going to feast with our friends and less-fortunate neighbors, but we also will teach Asher, “These are fun celebrations, but they are not Christmas -- just a product of it.”
- We are super excited to celebrate Día de los Reyes Magos (a.k.a. Three Kings Day/Epiphany) with Asher and exchanging a few gifts, but we will also teach him, “This is also a fun tradition, but this is not Christmas.”
The truth is Christians don't need to take back Christmas; Christians need to take back Jesus. And they need to acknowledge "the reason for the season" is less about the simple birth of a baby and more about celebrating the beginning of a life that amounted to something unfathomably incredible. And that life has implications for how we interact with the world.
I leave you to wrestle with the following: “What would this season look like once filtered through the teachings of Christ? What steps can I take to make that vision a reality in my own life?”