The end of the year is an amazing thing. One moment you’re sitting down with loved ones eating turkey and stuffing, then the next thing you know you’re suddenly transported to a makeshift North Pole. Gone are the pumpkins and ghosts, and in come the giant inflatable snowmen, pine trees and a never-ending marathon of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Of course, it’s not all bad. Christmas is fun and it brings people together, but in a society where Christmas is so heavily commercialized, we have to ask ourselves: What is the true meaning of Christmas? Where did it come from? And where is it going?
These questions have been on people’s minds for generations, whether in regards to the holiday’s supposed origins in paganism, the overly commercialized aspect of it or the argument over how Christmas should be celebrated.
To claim that Christmas is or ever was a pagan holiday is absurd, as it is based in Christian roots. The confusion here spreads because Christmas was adopted as an official holiday about 300 years after Christ’s death and resurrection. This was the same time that pagans, who were non-Jewish and non-Christian people, celebrated the winter solstice. As the cultures interacted, some traditions were adopted like decorating trees. But Christmas was never intended to be anything other than a celebration of Christ.
The stronger argument over the true meaning of Christmas lays in the presents under the tree. With many people restlessly waiting for their gifts, shopping on Black Friday for the best deals and images of Santa Claus—not Jesus—in just about every store, one has to wonder whether we are celebrating Christmas for Christ or if we’re putting more emphasis on money and material goods.
A 2017 study conducted by the Pew Research Center claims that 90 percent of all Americans celebrate Christmas, though another study conducted by the same group claims that Christmas in the U.S. is becoming increasingly more secular. The study states that Americans are not going to church services throughout the holiday as much as previous generations and do not believe the story of Jesus’s birth is factual, compared to a 2013 study that showed stronger faith in these aspects. Although the majority of the population still believes Christmas is a religious holiday, there is an increase of people who claim that it is not. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of all is that more than half of Americans are not bothered by this.
In essence, the majority of the population in the United States of America believe that Christmas is a Christian holiday, but do not believe it should be celebrated as such. This is a slight but dramatic change from previous generations as it indicates an emphasis on ourselves and our possessions rather than in Christ.
Given the foundations of Christianity, it is easy to look at this in a negative light. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus often preached against the love of money, telling people to leave their possessions behind and follow him. “Indeed, it is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he says (Luke 18:25). But what many people miss is that Jesus also commanded us to help each other. A big way to do this is through money. Acts 4:32-35 says, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”
We know that the meaning of Christmas—the reason for the holiday’s conception—has always been to celebrate Christ. So why is it bad that we focus so much on gifts, money and possessions? It’s because, at the heart of things, being a Christian is about loving your neighbor and loving God. Giving gifts to loved ones, neighbors and those in need are good Christian things to do because they are done with love and help our communities grow. But if we view the holiday as increasingly secular, and focus on receiving gifts rather than sharing the word or giving to others, we are not fulfilling the true meaning and purpose of Christmas.
The holiday is about giving and loving. It’s about being thankful for all that God has done for us, perhaps even more than we are on Thanksgiving. Christmas is a day to remember the biggest gift we’ve ever received and to try our best to represent that in all aspects of our lives, including sharing our faith with others. Knowing the true meaning of Christmas is knowing the truth about God and glorifying that fact with the world, whether it’s marketable or not.