In case you haven't noticed, I tend to be an independent thinker. I don't just go along with popular thought. Even as a Christian, I question everything. So for years I've wished I could go to a church where "the truth" was told about Christmas. And by the truth, I meant the historical facts about its origin as a holiday.
Things like the fact that the Apostles and the First Century church didn't celebrate the birth of Jesus. And the fact that Christmas was created by the Church centuries later in an effort to replace pagan winter solstice festivals that happened around December 25th with a Christian holiday. Many of the traditions that we still use today come from those pagan festivals, like the tree and the Yule log.
Most Christians know by now that Jesus was not born on December 25th. He was born in the spring, during lambing season. That's when the shepherds were out watching their flocks, not in the middle of winter. But if we celebrated his birth in the spring, it would conflict with Easter, the most holy Christian holiday.
So I have no trouble celebrating Christmas at this time of year. December 25th may not be Jesus' birthday, but there's nothing wrong with celebrating his birthday now. And as I approach the end of my first full calendar year with cancer, I realize that the historical facts about the origin of Christmas are not the same thing as the truth about Christmas.
The truth about Christmas is, love is in the air at this time of year. We are reminded of how much we love the people around us, and how much they love us.
The truth about Christmas is, we try harder to be the people we want to be at Christmastime. Though our schedules may be hectic and our nerves may be frayed at times, those hectic schedules and frayed nerves usually happen because we're so busy going to see people we love, or because we're out fighting traffic and crowds buying gifts for those we love. It's the only time of year when most of us expend that much energy on others.
The truth about Christmas is, the music, decorations and lights stir something in us. At least, they do in me. There's a sense of comfort and home in those things. When January comes around, for me, the comfort disappears, and only the cold remains.
There's a generous spirit around this holiday season. People are more giving than at other times of the year. We tend to entertain more, and socialize more. Long neglected relationships are rejoined with a call, a visit, or a card. That's the truth about Christmas.
I am not one who cares much about whether people say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas." From my point of view, the holidays go from Halloween to New Year's Day. I greet people by whatever holiday is next. Happy Halloween, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. But if a retailer wants to save time and ink by lumping them all together into one season, along with other ethnic holidays at this time of year, it doesn't bother me. Because those things have nothing to do with the truth about Christmas. I didn't go to that store to hear the correct greeting. I went to buy something for someone I love.
Of course I believe in the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus. If you follow me on Facebook, you've seen my relentless Bible Blog posts about it. I believe in celebrating his birth at this time of year, whether he was born in December or not. But I think Christians sometimes get a little defensive about this holiday. Yes, we celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time of year, but Christmas is about more than that. It's about family. It's about friends. It's about love and giving. It's about telling our kids that a fat man in a red suit delivers toys to all of the children of the world in one night, for crying out loud! It's about believing in miracles.
Last Christmas was my first with cancer. Now, after more than a year with this disease, after having been diagnosed Stage 4 and being given a prognosis which predicts that I won't be here for many more Christmases, this season has become much more precious. It's true that I've had a hard time getting into the spirit of the season this year, for whatever reason. Or maybe for one very obvious reason. But I'm there now. I'm not letting cancer steal this Christmas.
So to the traditionalist who boycotts stores for saying, "Happy Holidays" or the skeptic who loves to tell people Jesus wasn't really born on Christmas and Santa Claus was made up by the Coca-Cola Company, I say you're missing the point. I used to be that guy, but not anymore. Now I'm here to tell you that Jesus came to bring love into the world, and love is never more clearly on display than it is at Christmastime.
To quote my wife's favorite Christmas movie, Love Actually, love actually is all around at this time of year. Those who believe and those who don't show and bask in that love on and around December 25th, and in so doing, reflect the love that God sent into the world when Jesus was born. That's the truth about Christmas. #waroncancer