Christmas nostalgia always seems to overtake us when the month of December rolls around. Is there one authentic way to celebrate the “true meaning of Christmas?” Some reflections on the first day of Advent.
Advent starts today. That means that the festive season has officially begun. No, it doesn’t start the day after Halloween or even the day after Remembrance Day. For me, the Christmas season kicks off on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve.
It works out ideally this year because today is both a Sunday and December 1. Our thoughts always turn to Christmas when we see December on the calendar.
The reason I place so much emphasis on Advent is that it takes me back to my childhood. I was always in the choir both in school and at church. The Christmas decorations went up in the church in time for the first Sunday of Advent and not before.
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FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT AND NOT BEFORE
I was chosen to be a candle lighter for Advent a couple of years in a row. The liturgy for the services was designed to build momentum as we progressed to the big Christmas Eve candlelight service.
So, that’s a big part of my Christmas nostalgia and it’s why Christmas lights and music before the start of Advent annoy me. As long as I can remember, I’ve noticed that a lot of people get bothered over Christmas. There have always been people ranting about how we’ve forgotten the “true meaning of Christmas.”
The most vocal of these Christmas notalgia folks are those who want to “put the Christ back in Christmas.” They have a point, of course. Many people who are openly hostile toward Christianity, and religion in general, do seem a bit hypocritical when they put their hearts into secular Christmas celebrations.
TRADITION OF WATCHING A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
Most of us have made a bit of a tradition out of watching the 60s animated Christmas special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Our old pal Charlie is feeling a bit of Christmas nostalgia himself.
He’s sad and lost trying to understand the true meaning of Christmas. In the end, wise young Linus explains what Christmas is all about by quoting the story of the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke.
On the other hand, nothing in the Bible calls for Christians to celebrate Christmas. It’s not at all clear that we have the date right. Only two gospels talk about Jesus’ birth, and they’re inconsistent.
To take just one example, Matthew thought that Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem, while Luke thought they lived in Nazareth. We can’t rely on scripture alone to make sure that our Christmas is “authentic.”
WE CAN’T RELY ON SCRIPTURE FOR “AUTHENTIC” CHRISTMAS
Other proponents of Christmas nostalgia claim that we’ve lost track of the ancient traditions. They seem to think that Christmas has been celebrated in precisely the same way for the last 2,000 years. That isn’t accurate either.
The truth is, people didn’t even have Christmas celebrations until the fourth century. Christians held the first one in the year 340 CE. By 380 CE, Christmas nostalgia had taken hold of the Archbishop of Constantinople. He started complaining that people paid no attention to the religious message and instead focused too much on feasting and dancing.
Christmas didn’t get any more devout or chaste over the centuries that followed. Christmas got muddled up with pagan festivals that also came up around the winter solstice. These included Yule and Saturnalia, neither of which were much more than excuses for a booze-up.
YULE AND SATURNALIA – EXCUSES FOR A BOOZE-UP
It wasn’t until Victorian times that Christmas became associated with giving gifts to children. Even then, there wasn’t very much emphasis on Santa Claus or rewarding children based on their behaviour.
On the other hand, it was during this era that Christmas evolved into a family centred occasion. Today’s Christmas nostalgia comes mainly from the depictions of joyful holiday festivities in the modern print culture that sprang up in the 19th century.
There weren’t any Christmas trees in most places before Queen Victoria either. It was pagans who decorated the house with evergreen boughs for the winter solstice. The custom gradually morphed into a Christian tradition in Germanic regions of Europe. But, just like today, when the royals started doing it, everybody followed suit.
YULETIDE CELEBRATED DIFFERENTLY IN OTHER CULTURES
Another point to remember when we get on our high horse about Christmas nostalgia is that the Yuletide isn’t celebrated the same way in other cultures. In the Philipines, it just isn’t Christmas without building massive, elaborate lanterns.
In Sweden, you have to build a giant goat instead. Young Austrian men dress up like the demonic creature Krampus and frighten little kids into being good on St. Nicholas Day (December 6).
Icelandic youths are much gentler, dressing up as the more troll-like Yule Lads. Norwegians hide their brooms on Christmas Eve to keep the witches from stealing them.
IN JAPAN, YOU HAVE TO ORDER KFC FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER
Only 1% of the Japanese are Christians. That doesn’t matter, they put up lights, eat Christmas cake and sing Frosty the Snowman anyway. Christmas Eve is the most prominent romantic date night of the year– more significant than Valentine’s Day. Nobody knows why, but in Japan, you have to order KFC for Christmas dinner.
Let’s face it, there’s no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas, and there has never been one. Holidays, as well as religion, are embedded in cultures. Cultures adapt to time and place. The truth is, no two households celebrate Christmas the same way. That’s what makes it fun. There’s no “war on Christmas.”
It’s also meaningful to find out how other people mark the winter solstice, whether they are Christian or not. So, Seasons Greetings, readers!
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
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