What is the best part of Christmas for you?
Right now, before we go any further, I want to encourage you to do something a bit unorthodox: just pause right here and take a couple of minutes to write down your top seven favorite things about Christmas. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Hopefully you actually took the time to write down your seven favorite things that you love about Christmas.
Admittedly, mine have changed a bit over the years. The list throughout the majority of my early life went something like this, but not necessarily in this order:
I grew up in northeast Ohio, right off of Lake Erie, and one thing that I loved most about Christmas was that usually we’d get doused with a good snowfall. If we were lucky, everything would be covered in white. And there is something special about how things sound outside after a snowfall. The snow seems to absorb the normal sounds around you, and usually, you just hear the whistling winds and the crunching under your boots.
Sledding, snowman, snowball fights, snow forts. Some of my best memories have been in the snow.
Of course, that has changed for me, because we’ve exchanged shoveling driveways for palm trees and seventy degree weather. If there was snow in Miami, it would be a state of emergency due to all of the iguanas falling from the trees.
But I still like snow. Another thing I used to love about Christmas was…
As a kid, Christmas vacation was a long-anticipated break from the school year. It was a time of play and hanging out with family. It was a reprieve from the rat-race of education. It was rest.
But over the years, that has changed too. Since seminary, Christmas is almost never about rest, but about the life of the church. For nearly two decades now, our family’s Christmas typically happens after Christmas because we are serving in the local church.
And frankly, while that is usually exhausting, it’s been a good trade-off. I love hearing everyone singing Christmas hymns and seeing everyone together singing “Silent Night,” watching everyone lighting candles in church while parents frantically make sure that their kids don’t catch anyone on fire.
It’s great. But this year, that has changed again. It will, once again, be different. We won’t get our typical dose of nostalgia. We will miss the typical festivities because of the pandemic.
Maybe you are starting to see the pattern in what I am saying already, but our experiences of Christmas – and what we like about it – can and do change over time.
But when I was a kid, that coveted vacation time also came with the prospect of another of my favorite Christmas things…
Throughout most of my early life, I had the blessing of a combined total of eight grandparents and great-grandparents. This meant that I got to see a lot of family at Christmas. We’d sit by my grandparents’ wood stove with the extended family and eat and visit and play games. Many Christmases, I’d be at multiple grandparents’ houses on the same day or over the course of a couple days. Those are wonderful memories.
Of course, over time, this too has changed. So many people from our family are gone now. And it’s hard to not miss what was. This is a hard thing for all of us at this time of year. The heartache of missing loved ones who are no longer with us.
Fortunately, we are still blessed with what is, and even though I won’t get to see our family for Christmas this year, I am really thankful that we live in a time where we have technology that allows us to see and speak to them from afar.
Of course, with all of this family gathering back in the day, it also meant another of my favorite things about Christmas…
Like most people, I enjoyed giving and getting gifts as a kid. I was always excited to receive new toys. But one of the things I liked most about Christmas, particularly as I grew older, was going to the local mall and seeing people shopping: hearing the Salvation Army ring the bell outside stores, watching people wearing Christmas sweaters buy things for loved ones. There was an ethos of community to it all.
That doesn’t really exist anymore. Malls are closed or closing down. You likely bought and shipped your presents from Amazon this year. And people can’t really hang out in any real proximity right now.
That’s because Christmas is changing.
Trees, Christmas cookies, lights, gingerbread houses, ornaments. Part of what I loved most about going to places like the mall was this item on my list.
Decorating for Christmas always brings me joy, particularly decorating the Christmas tree.
My family was always good about giving Christmas ornaments to one another. I had one aunt that sent what looked like hand-painted ornaments to us every year. So I have Christmas ornaments from most years when I was a child with my name and year on them. My mom still sends us ornaments, and now we send our nieces and nephews ornaments as well.
When we were in western Ohio, the head of the committee that called me to the church there and his wife always gave Jeannelle and me a Christmas ornament every year we were there. For me, putting those decorations on the tree is a yearly reminder of the people I have had the privilege to know and who have loved us over the years.
When I was a child, there was one particular Christmas ornament that I loved above all, and we still have it. It is an ornament that I got in the mail from (historically) my number six favorite thing about Christmas.
And this is going to sound a bit corny, but…
When I was a little kid, I got an envelope in the mail that contained this flat, gold reindeer ornament. The accompanying letter said it was from Santa! And it was like, “I know him! And he knows me! This is great!”
Well, come to find out Santa did know me…more than I knew. And that changed how I thought about both Santa and ornaments, not in a bad way, just a different way.
But just like all of the other things on my top things I love about Christmas list have changed, even my thinking about Santa has changed as I’ve aged. I have to admit as I watched the Macy’s day parade this year – seeing this massively corporate spectacle, which granted is pretty entertaining, but seeing it culminate with a white bearded white guy on top of a fake sleigh, who is the holiday hope of Children – I thought to myself, what kind of message does this send to the growing percentage of our country that is made up of ethnically diverse, non-white children?
I mean, if we are going to let our imaginations create our reality, where is Black Santa or Hispanic Santa at the end of the parade? Or how come Mrs. Claus doesn’t have a more prominent role?
And I guess what I’m getting at is that, no matter who you are, at some time in your life, all of the top things you love about Christmas are likely going to fail you. All except one. And that is the only favorite on my list who has never changed, never disappointed, never let me down: the person of Jesus Christ.
Ironically, if you ask most people, “What is the best part about Christmas for you?” even many Christians almost never mention Jesus. He won’t even make their list.
Look it up on the internet. It’s crazy. People will name all sorts of stuff from eggnog to the Dr. Who Christmas Special to Wonder Woman 1984 to company parties to…you name it… But people almost always leave Jesus off the list.
Jesus has been supplanted by our wants and our stuff and our fairy tales.
And one of the most compelling things in the Scriptures, and the thing that I admire the most about John the Baptist (which we see highlighted in in John 1:6-8 and 19-28) is that John shows us a better way. Although his context was much different than ours, everyone around him wanted to make the announcement of Jesus’ coming ministry about John. And John would have none of it.
They wanted to call John the Messiah, so he outright stated that he wasn’t. They wanted to claim that he was one of the prophets brought back by God. Was he Elijah, they asked, was he Moses?
Which is another fascinating theological rabbit hole: if you want to talk about reincarnation theories, or God taking us to heaven without dying, or even modern theories about multiverse, there are many ways that we can theorize or speculate or get distracted… But John wouldn’t let anyone confuse what was happening by allowing himself to be at the center of things.
I wonder… Can we say the same about ourselves when it comes to Christmas?
I look around my neighborhood and think, if we put as much time into telling people about Jesus as we did stringing up lights and putting blow-ups in our yard, and if we spent as much time telling people about Jesus as we devote to shopping, and parades and self-centered events, we might help others – heck, help ourselves – to come to the same conclusion that John did:
That our only true constant in this life is the love of God in Christ.
I don’t know about you, but when I consider all those wonderful things that I love and all of those memories that I cherish – when I consider that they all stem from this light that John is testifying to – I can’t help but think that the best part of Christmas, that should top all of our lists, is Jesus.
May we give thanks for the love of God that allows us to love so much else.
Reality Changing Observations:
- What are the seven things that you love most about Christmas?
- What modern Christmas rituals need to be reconsidered, and why?
- How will you honor Jesus this Christmas?