When you stop and think about it, Christmas can be a very confusing holiday.
First, there’s the timing of the day itself. Many Biblical scholars believe that Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth the day memorializes, was actually born in the spring of the year. The custom of celebrating Jesus’ birth in December can be traced to the Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Sigillaria, which were held in December in honor of the coming winter. Christian leaders introduced the Nativity on December 25 in AD 354 as a way of diverting Roman converts to Christianity from the worship of idols, a practice that was considered unsavory.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t these Romans the same guys who used the early Christians for lion chow? THAT’S what I call “unsavory.” So why would they juggle the timing of Christmas to make it more convenient for the Romans? I find that confusing.
And while we’re at it, who was this “good King Wences”-whatever, and what does he have to do with anything? Why are “Jingle Bells” and “Winter Wonderland” part of every Christmas caroling repertoire when they have nothing to do with Christmas? What possessed the first fruit cake maker to take a bunch of stuff nobody actually eats, mix it together, bake it into a brick and call it a gift? And what’s the deal with eggnog?
And what’s the deal with eggnog?
Confusing, confusing, confusing.
Of course, it’s easy to see why people get confused at Christmas. For some of us, the holiday is rich with religious meaning and symbolism. For others, it’s a happy time of festive decorations, holiday parties, gift giving and a jolly elf named Santa. For still others, it’s a dreary, depressing time, with grim reminders of life’s potential for emptiness and disappointment in every carol, cookie and commercial. And I guess there are also those for whom Christmas is a little of all three – religious, festive and depressing – all at once.
That’s a lot of feeling packed into one holiday. But it doesn’t have to be confusing.
Some years ago I knew a woman whose life had been, to say the least, challenging. She had been abused by her parents as a child, and had not had contact with her family for decades. She also experienced abuse at the hands of her husband, who deserted her and their two daughters after six traumatic years of marriage. One of the girls died in a car accident; the other was struggling through her teens trailing a steady stream of ill-mannered boyfriends and an ongoing battle against drugs.
Knowing that there were serious needs in her home, I visited to see if there was anything our church group could do to help make her Christmas happier. I don’t know what I expected to see there – probably a Dickensian mix of “Oliver Twist’s” workhouse and Scrooge’s Spartan “Christmas Carol” living quarters. But what I found was stunning in its simple joyfulness.
The room was cheery, with clever homemade decorations filling every available space with an omnipresent glow of happiness and peace. I found myself warmed – and a little confused – by the power of what I was feeling there.
“Your house,” I said, fumbling for words. “It’s wonderful!”
“It’s Christmas,” she said, brightly. “There’s nothing like it, is there?”
Indeed not. Christmas can be a positive power in our lives, regardless of our personal perspective on its origins and traditions. It can bring flickering candlelight to pierce shrouded darkness. It can bring comforting peace to the weary and troubled. It can bring happiness to hearts heavy with the burdens and sorrows of life. And it can bring sensibility to a confusing, chaotic world if we allow it to do so. It isn’t a factor of money, relationships or even faith. It’s a factor of attitude – call it the Xmas-Factor.
Want a happy Christmas? In the immortal words of Jean-Luc Picard (who has as much to do with Christmas as good King Wences-whatever), “Make it so.”
And there isn’t anything confusing about that.