"Every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” So rages Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's 1843 tale A Christmas Carol.
As the story begins, Scrooge doesn't care much for Christmas. To the miserly businessman, Christmas is “a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer.”
For Scrooge, there is no justification for the holiday. It's all “Humbug.” And many sincere people, Christians included, feel the same way. Why? The reasons are as varied as the number of Christmas specials on TV. Everything from its pagan links to the solstice festival, to the idolisation of the mythical Santa Claus who brings children unhealthful sweets and useless toys, to the materialism that often overshadows any spiritual significance—all these and more are reasons given by some to say “Humbug” to Christmas.
But is a Scrooge-like rejection of the holiday the only valid option? Our children are a part of the culture in which we live, and it's a difficult matter to pass over the day without giving it some attention. Admittedly, it's pleasant to receive a gift from those we love. It's an assurance that we aren't forgotten, and it can bind us a little closer to them. It's OK to share these tokens of our love, provided we don't forget the Christ of Christmas in the process.
My wife and I try to find a balance between the hype and real hope that can be communicated at this time. Here's a short list of things we've done to keep Christ in Christmas—and to keep it simpler:
1. Find new ways to tell the Christmas story.
Since our daughters were young, there's always been a Christmas “pageant” at the Maxwell house. Those of you with sons may not be able to relate to this. But girls love play-acting and dressing up in costumes. It's a tradition that we reenact Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem on donkey-back—every year. Never mind that we never had a stuffed donkey and therefore had to use a large stuffed sheep as a stand-in for Mary's mode of transportation.
Over the years I've played every role in the Christmas story—except Mary (my wife's permanent role)—and sometimes all in the same evening! And my bathrobe—having graced the forms of King Herod, a wise man, and the angel of the Lord—surely qualifies for an honoured space in the Actors Hall of Fame.
The point is, the children are the ones responsible for writing the script, assigning the parts, and directing this home theatre. They add something new every year, and it keeps the story of Jesus' birth fresh in their minds.The Bible provides them with the basic story-line, and their more-than-fertile imaginations take it from there. Like the time one of the wise men brought the Baby Jesus a tie! Or the year Crystal, our middle daughter, was wrapped in Christmas lights that winked brightly as she made her announcement of good news to the shepherds.
Finding new ways to tell the Christmas story helps to keep Christ—not Kris Kringle—the focus of the holiday.
2. Create family traditions
In addition to the annual home pageant, we have other traditions that help make Christmas time family time. A Christmas Eve dinner of chilli and tamales before piling into our van to tour the Christmas lights around town; reading aloud about the “worst children in the history of the world” and their insane cat in The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever; dragging everyone to a Christmas-tree farm to choose just the “right” tree that's not too tall, too short, too fat or skinny—these are traditions that cement the family together and fill our mental albums with happy memories that will last a lifetime.
3. Bless someone else
To prevent the holiday from becoming an indulgent celebration of self-gratification, it's important to give something of yourself to others. Last year, before heading out to see the lights, our family made several calls on neighbours who were shut in from Christmas festivities by age or illness. We sang carols to them, delivered small gifts, and prayed with them.
One year, the Christmas after a neighbour's wife died, we took him a decorated tree. We knew he wouldn't be in the mood to decorate, so we decided to bring him some Christmas cheer. Our time is the best gift we can give; it puts the focus on the real spirit of the season.
4. Encourage generosity
Our children love receiving gifts. (Do you know any who don't?) But Suzette and I are proud of our kids' love for giving as well. They don't want anyone left out at the gift exchange.
To make sure everyone is equally blessed, they organise a name-drawing. Each family member writes his or her name on a piece of paper, along with a short list of wishes. Then everyone draws a name. I had no idea who drew my name last year, but it was fun watching the excitement build as each child eagerly urged the others and the grown-ups to hurry and open “their” presents.
Inspired by a Christmas story entitled “The Last Straw,” we also encourage doing anonymous acts of kindness for each other during the holiday season.
When someone discovers their chores already done, their bed made or their lunch packed, it encourages generosity and servanthood—characteristics of the Christ we celebrate.
5. Worship the King
A tradition that my parents started with my brother and me continues in my home. Before presents are opened on Christmas morning, we gather first to worship the King. We sing a few carols at the piano, read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, and then pray prayers of thanksgiving to the One who gave so much to provide us with the gift of salvation.
The traditional Christmas hymn invites the faithful to “come, let us adore Him.” We all need to take time to adore the King. Don't let the shopping mall become your new place of worship. Take your family to church and give the only gift that really matters to Jesus—your heart. You are on the Messiah's wish list. Your love, your devotion, your joyful acceptance of His gift of grace is His heart's desire this Christmas. Wise men and women still seek Him. Are you among them?
Old Scrooge finally gets it by the end of the Dickens tale. His heart opens at last to the gifts of joy, generosity and goodwill that the season offers to everyone willing to receive them. Will you? You don't have to reject Christmas because of the commercialism. Instead, keep your eye on Jesus! Once a year the world acknowledges the greatest gift ever given to humanity. Can we not do the same?
It's not the mistletoe, but rather the blessings we give to others. It's not the tinsel but the traditions that made us a family. Christmas sales come and go, but the Christmas story never goes out of style. And it is our worship of the Babe in Bethlehem that removes the “Humbug” from the holiday. Enjoy the season, and “God bless us, every one!”