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Christmased Out!
Photo: George Bosela
Another Christmas has come and gone. It seems the Christmas displays went up in stores as soon as the Halloween decorations came down. Holiday parties started before Thanksgiving (they seem to start earlier each year) and continued in a whirl until Christmas Eve. You got all your shopping done and the packages mailed – on time – despite that.

Yesterday was a frenzy of opening presents and feasting. Today it is over – except for paying the bills in the next few months. Time to take down the tree, stash the outdoor display of lights and reindeer back in the attic, and put away the presents. Everyone is bored with them already. It’s over. Merry material Christmas.

Do you notice how quickly Christmas is put behind us? The carols stop at midnight, Christmas Day. We move on to the next thing because we are all Christmased out.

Early Christians observed Christmas differently. December was a month of anticipation, preparation, and prayer. Christmas Day did not signify the end of the holiday – it heralded the beginning of twelve days of celebration. For them – as for us – Christmas brought a gift bigger than any video game system – it brought the promise of redemption, of life eternal.

Preparation and Prayer

The celebration started Christmas Day because their gift was a newborn baby. They held parties after Christmas because families celebrate a child’s arrival after the birth – not before. They spent December in preparation and prayer because that is what families do when expecting a birth.

As for exchanging presents? They did that – on a much smaller scale than we do today. Gifts were exchanged as a symbolic recognition of God’s gift of life, and to commemorate the frankincense, myrrh, and gold given Christ child. It was not the central reason for the holiday.

Our technology is superior to that of those early Christians. Humans orbit the Earth in ninety minutes, and speak to the other side of the world at the speed of light. While physically healthier, and perhaps more knowledgeable today, humans today are the same as humans then. We are born, we live, and die – just as those early Christians did.

A Christmas Carol ends with Ebenezer Scrooge becoming a byword for generosity. Not because Scrooge began partying and gave more gifts than everyone else. It was because he kept the spirit of Christmas throughout the year. Scrooge did not put Christmas back in the box after Christmas Day, to be hauled out after Halloween.

Those early Christians may have been on to something. The key to a meaningful Christmas is not flurries of parties before Christmas Day – or even the presents opened Christmas morning. It is celebrating the promise delivered on Christmas day in the days that follow.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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