Christmas Culmination

As someone who's attended church since I was 5, I feel like I've heard it all when it comes to how we should or shouldn't celebrate the holidays. Mostly I hear about how dangerous and pagan it all is. Trick or Treating is evil, Santa is evil, the Easter Bunny is evil.

Halloween probably tops the list in terms of "pure evil" but those who worry about it usually just ignore the holiday entirely. Christmas is different. There's the distinct faith element to the holiday, but there's also a lot of cultural influence to contend with. As such, Christians tend to agonize over Christmas the most. Should we celebrate or shouldn't we? Well, maybe it's okay but ONLY the overtly spiritual and Biblical aspects. Parents debate about how many gifts they can give their children before permanent spoilage occurs. Shoppers get indignant when cashiers wish them "Happy Holidays" instead of a "Merry Christmas" and on and on and on.

As a recovering Type-A, Good Girl, over-thinker, I can totally understand. The "holidays will ruin us" mindset is everywhere in the church and it's an easy trap to fall into. I mean, how tempting is it to believe that a handful of events can set the course for our and our children's spiritual future? Wouldn't life be so much simpler that way?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not at all suggesting that we run headlong into the current insanity that is Christmas in America. As believers, I think that it's our job to step back and analyze, well...everything, and determine how it fits into our faith and how best to proceed. Holidays for sure, but everything in between. Letting culture alone dictate our morals, values, celebrations, attitudes, and life choices is dangerous to be sure.

So, I'm all for using discernment when interacting with the world around us, but I wonder if we're  focusing on the wrong things. In short, I think a lot of us have the right desire and mindset, but are going about it the wrong way.

The first clue that led me to that assessment is the spirit surrounding these debates. I hate to say it but most of the people who tend to get frazzled by Christmas seem to also struggle with peace and joy. They look and sound more like Scrooges than like grace-filled believers. There's such an aura of "I MIGHT BE DOING THIS WRONG AND YOU MIGHT BE TOO!!!" surrounding them that it's a real downer. They also have a tendency to need to tell other people about what they're doing or not doing and make sure they know that they have a Biblical and spiritual reason for doing things differently.

I want to suggest that maybe how we celebrate Christmas isn't so much a launching point as it is a culmination. See, I think that many believers who have wrestled with this topic end up coming to a lot of the same conclusions. They worry less about what they and their children are getting, they focus more on giving and donating, they don't get overly hung up on Santa. The difference is that one group comes to these decisions based on fear and behavior modification and the other comes to these decisions based on faith. The end results may look similar, but the attitude and spirit is different.

I'd like to propose the idea that Christmas is a culmination of how we live our lives all day every day. It cannot ruin anything, but neither can it magically instill anything, either. Some people who celebrate a low-key Christmas do so simply because their focus is on Christ and others. They don't tend to agonize over every decision and they don't over speculate on what is being done by others.

There are 365 days in the year. If gratitude, for example, is a family value it's going to be played out again and again over the course of the year. You'll be teaching and modeling that trait. Giving your child more than three gifts on Christmas doesn't have the power to undo all that you've instilled in them. At the same time, if gratitude is not a focus the other 364 days, then a stark Christmas isn't going to change that. Hard truth for some, a great relief for others.

You might be approaching Christmas based on fear if you:

  • Find yourself agonizing over the EXACT amount of gifts are Biblical.
  • Research each and every Christmas custom and symbol to determine their pagan roots.
  • Randomly select said Christmas customs and symbols to put on the chopping block because JESUS while keeping others.
  • Feel weighed down and guilty.
  • Seriously wonder if it would be best not to celebrate at all.
  • Are afraid of "getting it wrong."
  • Are stressed.
  • Lack joy.
  • Lack peace.
  • Tend toward a legalistic mindset vs a grace based attitude.
  • Constantly comparison with others instead of taking an honest look at what is working and what isn't.

When I got fed up over the holidays and started doing some soul searching I was found that the word that came to me was reclaim. As in reclaim the holidays. As I prayed and searched I found that I wasn't so much focusing on Christmas customs and symbols as much as I was my attitude and my heart. It wasn't the idolatry out there it was the idolatry within me. Yeah, not what I was expecting, either.

I didn't feel led to declare Santa as evil or limit the number of presents to three (like the Wise Men). I didn't outlaw Christmas trees or stockings or carols. Instead, I was led to cut down on the busyness. I focused more on cultivating a peaceful, welcoming, cozy home. I felt called to serve more at church. I made family activities a priority. I  let go of making my kids dress up in itchy clothes to impress others. I strategized with my family on how to bless those who were struggling. 

If I wanted to reclaim Christmas I had to deal with my tendency toward perfectionism and my desire to please people, among other things. In short, the things that held me back in my life the rest of the year were causing me stress and strain at Christmas. 


The result of figuring all of this out is that we can still enjoy some of the cultural and historical aspects of Christmas without losing Christ as our focus. We can give generously and appreciate presents. We can read devotionals and enjoy a Lego Advent calendar. We can get a kick out of Santa and marvel at the majesty of Christ. Our change in heart changed our attitudes and allowed us simultaneously cut out some things and embrace others. And all is done in a relaxed attitude of joy and peace that is the result of grace, not fear.

The Christmas Culmination mindset is freeing and challenging at the same time. Christmas isn't responsible for teaching our kids about Christ, gratitude, generosity, peace, love, hope, and grace. We are. During the holidays and every day. Through explicit lessons and through example. By outward behavior, words,  attitudes and choices. Christmas is a reflection of who we are and what we believe and if Christmas is wonky then it's not Christmas to blame as much as the sins we deal with all year 'round. Let's not treat Christmas as an anchor in our lives as much as the culmination of the life and peace that began on that very first Christmas many years ago.


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