What Does Christmas Mean to You?
How would you answer? Christmas is (1) a time to be with your family; (2) a time for parties; (3) a religious time; (4) a stressful time; (5) a nostalgic time; (6) a time of blatant commercialism.
SURPRISING as it may seem, of more than 1,000 people surveyed in Britain, only 6 percent considered Christmas to be primarily a religious occasion. In contrast, 48 percent thought of Christmas predominantly as a time to be with their family. Indeed, many maintain that it is a special time for children. Typically, one 11-year-old girl, when asked what she liked best about Christmas, replied: “The excitement, feeling of happiness, [and] giving presents.” The Making of the Modern Christmas agrees that “the strongest emphases of . . . ‘traditional’ Christmas are undoubtedly on the home, the family and particularly the children.”
But it is especially in western Christendom that Christmas is a family affair, when relatives gather to exchange gifts. In countries where the Eastern Orthodox Church holds sway, people place more emphasis on Easter; still, Christmastime is usually a vacation period.
A “Commercial Operation”
Christmas has “undergone a process of striking . . . commercialization,” states The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Nowhere perhaps is this more true than in Japan.
“The Japanese have dropped all pretense of religion and turned Christmas into a strictly commercial operation,” reports the Washington Daily Record. Christmas in Japan, it adds, is “a major celebration that’s heavy on the commercialism and rather light on the religious aspect.”
Even in many so-called Christian countries, this “religious aspect” is often hard to detect. Some 40 years ago, an anti-Christmas pamphlet lamented: “Christmas is boosted by the commercial world. It is the greatest money-making season of the year. Professed Christian business men look forward to the Christmas season, not for the sake of Christ, but for the sake of financial gain.” How true those words are today! In many lands, rarely do we reach the beginning of the last quarter of the year before we hear reminders of how many days remain to buy gifts for next Christmas. Business becomes brisker as the year ends, with as much as one quarter of stores’ annual sales coming at Christmastime.
Whatever Christmas means to you now, you may well wonder how it started. Does the Bible, in fact, support Christmas gift giving? Are today’s Christmas celebrations truly Christian? Let us see.
[Picture Credit Line on page 2]
Cover: Thomas Nast/Dover Publications, Inc., 1978