Researching Christmas

I want to recommend some of the resources I have used in researching for this series "Recovering Christmas." Before I do, allow me to strike a few extremes off of the list. By showing you the kinds of things I chose not to use, maybe it will not only save you some time, but also help you form a more balanced opinion of the holiday.

Suffice it to say there are a gazillion websites and books about the history of Christmas. The good news is that when you pull them all together they basically offer only slight variations on the same historical episodes. If you choose to chase the paper trail of the historical Christmas you are going to have to sift through legend. When it comes to Christmas, it is difficult to conclusively verify the origins of many of the season's traditions. In this respect, Christmas is very mythological. For example, there are several legends of the Christmas tree and even more surrounding Santa Claus. Why is gift giving such a big part of the modern Christmas? Hint: there are numerous legends, but the most recent commercial phenomenon has nothing to do with the 3 wise men! Although there is a world of diversity in the legends, I try to find similarities and trust that similarity is a pretty good indicator that I am falling on the version that has become most popular as these stories are transmitted down through the generations. If you can find some strands of similarity in legend, there is probably a nugget of historical truth at the root of it.

I tried to stay away from websites and books that were overly Christian or distinctly atheist. Both extremes have similar agendas, get rid of Christmas. I found neither of those opinions honest nor fun. I found that both extremes fail to be historically accurate, not wanting to admit what most balanced research finds true about the historical roots of Christmas. The atheists want to rid the world of any religious tones of the holiday, wanting us to believe that it has never been anything but a non-religious winter solstice event. Yeah right! The overly Christian resources got a little tacky wanting me to see Jesus in every symbol and tradition in the modern version of Christmas. Yeah right! On a personal note, I must also confess that I immediately exclude any website that plays midi Christmas tunes or uses .gif animation. That stuff is so 2000. I hated it then, and I'm still there.

My point is that if you choose to research this topic, the information out there tends to prey on extremes. Crazy gets attention. If you go to the extremes, you will probably not only lose perspective, but you will probably lose your mind. This is same reason that when some people spend too much time online they either end up in a cult or believing that 9/11 was a conspiracy. It seems that Christmas is another topic that can drive people crazy. With such a wonderful holiday, whether one observes it culturally or religiously, this shouldn’t be the case. As a pastor, I often observe that Christians tend to overreact. Just because Deck the Halls is a song about ancient Norse winter festival decorations does not mean that if you sing the words Fa-La-La-La-La backwards it will cause your kids to sacrifice a goat and worship the devil. Use common sense. Personally, in researching Christmas I have not only been informed, but entertained. It has been fun and convicting. The overriding message in all of it, for me, has been that Christmas, left to itself, means nothing. It becomes a bad version of us. For the church it can become a way to religiously justify ourselves without actually paying attention to Scripture. At large, Christmas is not a reflection of Christ, but a reflection of the culture. In this respect, our current version of Christmas is a glaring indictment of our addiction to material things.

However you work through it all, find good data and make informed decisions about how your family can make this Christmas more meaningful this year.


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