Christmas: Store the piety, find the joy

© Rex A E Hunt
The Uniting Church of St James
Curtin ACT 2605

• Published in the Canberra Region Presbytery News, November 2005, Vol 11, Issue 58.


Christmas brings out the best and worst in people.  And some church people, including ministers, can fit into both categories.  Let me explain.

You can bet your Christmas socks that many parishes and ministers will, in the next couple of weeks, start their annual ritual:  condemn the Christmas season as pagan, materialisic, commercial, and full of over indulgence.

Yes... I am guilty of a serious crime, so claim some of my colleagues.  The crime of being a clergyperson who is enthusiastic about Christmas.

Well history shows us that Christmas is an invented celebration.  And it has had a chequered history.  Since its inception it has been debated, ignored, celebrated, banned, and reshaped.  And pious slogans such as “put Christ back into Christmas” do nothing.

The symbol of this festival today is the American invention called Santa Claus.  A jolly fat man with a beard and red and white ‘Coca Cola’ costume... but I stray from my task.

While the Christian religious ‘infancy stories’ around the birth of Jesus of Nazareth may have provided the fundamental rationale for the festival within the institutional church, for the most part and for most people, they no longer function as determinative.  For many people today Christmas is just that... Christmas!  An accepted part of the annual cycle of events, and something to be entered into and enjoyed.

I reckon we do need to reclaim a stake in Christmas.  But I also reckon we will only be able to do that if we accept the suggestion that Christmas is not and never has been, just a religious event.  It’s a mix of faith, tradition and popular culture, woven into a global festival in its own right.

We don’t have to see these various traditions as rivals and eliminate some until only the simple birth of Jesus remains.  The purpose of the customs, colours, and legends of Christmas is to make available its essential Spirit.

So my invitation to you, my reader, is for a more generous approach to Christmas, its traditions and celebrations.

Despite everything you or I might say, people are in a generous mood at Christmas, sharing the occasion for doing something for others and reaching out to renew human contacts.  Whatever excesses must be conceded, goodwill and joy and love are there.

So this year, celebrate the birth and the tinsel.  For both make available the essential Spirit of Christmas.