Remember what Christmas is really about

by | December 22, 2018 5:00 pm

Last Updated: December 18, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Merry Christmas, everyone! Also, (belated) happy Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Peace and enlightenment to my Hindu, Islamic, Jehovah’s Witness and Quaker brethren. To my atheist friends, may you have good cheer and a juicy turkey. (Or sushi. Whatever.)
In childhood, the approach of Christmas made me giddy with excitement. I couldn’t wait to see the pile of presents from Santa. Our parents put us to bed on Christmas Eve with the usual cautions: “Santa won’t come if you don’t go to sleep,” and “If you get up too early, Daddy will have a heart attack and everyone will blame you.” (Yes, that was a real warning.)
Our parents gave us four kids more than they could afford, but it made Mother, who grew up poor, especially happy. Dolls, games, books, clothes, toys, art supplies, baseball gloves, bikes—she lovingly bought, wrapped and hid them all, in every closet, nook and cranny she could find. We actually had standing orders not to turn the oven on after mid-November. (She hated to cook, so who knows if she actually hid presents in there, or just took advantage of the season. Mom was pretty sly.)
As we grew older, we learned more about the significance of Christmas: The virgin birth, the wise men, the meaning of Advent, the importance of giving to others as God gave to us.
Today, decades later, Christmas parties, presents, decorations, even traditions like cards and cookie exchanges, seem superfluous. (For years I asked people to make donations to my favorite charities, but they were then deluged with endless junk mail soliciting more contributions. Now I just say, support your local SPCA.)
Don’t get me wrong—we still send cards, make goodies, sing carols. We toss on a few decorations when there’s time, although how many Rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer wreaths does one need?
Last year we left the tree—a fully-decorated, pre-lit model from Sharper Image—up until Labor Day, because we were too busy/lazy to take it down. Visitors did double-takes, then politely ignored it, as if seeing tinsel and candy canes in August was utterly normal. It may not go up at all this year.
The older I get, the more I ponder the meaning of Christmas. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention Jesus’s birthdate, or a celebration commemorating his birth. We sort of made that up ourselves. Christmas was celebrated on Dec. 25th for the first time in 336, during the reign of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome. A few years later, Pope Julius I made it official—and ever since we’ve used Christmas as an excuse to pepper spray each other at Black Friday sales, blow the budget on gifts nobody needs (looking at you, three-wick candles), and getting tore up on eggnog.
Yep. This is how we celebrate the savior’s birth—buying $29 blenders and drunkenly singing “Grand ma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
I know what you’re thinking: Ms. Smith is a lot of fun at parties. Actually, I am. I just don’t think “party” when I think about the birth of my Savior. I think reverence, awe, amazement, joy. Mostly joy.
And so, on Christmas Eve I’ll put on my candy cane earrings and sparkly red blazer, pose for a picture by the Christmas tree (maybe) and then attend the 11 p.m. service at a local church. I’ll be thrilled by the trumpet fanfare and the white-robed choir, and smile at familiar faces as we all celebrate, again, the birth of the King.
Merry Christmas, my friends.

(Julie R. Smith, who hoards Christmas-tree shaped Reese Cups, can be reached at

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