We had barely entered the month of December when the Christmas lights went up in my new neighborhood. But it was the cheerful Christmas carols permeating the air each morning that was the icing on the cake for me.
The magical atmosphere filled not just my street, but everywhere in Manhattan—in stores, offices, restaurants, homes. In my home, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Aretha Franklin, and Irving Berlin crooned Christmas songs from my speakers, bringing every room to life.
Though the ambiance seemed to lend weight to the fact that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, I know that not everyone perceives it that way. For many, it’s a stressful, commercialized season of gift-giving, so much so that people forget the real reason for the season. Some others can’t share in the joy of Christmas as they do not understand what Christmas stands for, because they have different religious views or hold to no religion at all.
On my recent trip to China, I noticed a distinct absence of Christmas decorations or holiday spirit in the region I visited. The weather was warm, and the focus was on a different religion. It seemed like I had been transported to another reality.
During my stay, I found myself thinking less about Christmas. I didn’t stop praying, communing with God, reading my Bible, or anything like that. But I was no longer reading an advent devotional I had previously stumbled upon online.
That experience, along with my usual end-of-year reflective mood, got me asking myself some hard questions and re-examining my motives for the holiday season:
Would I intentionally choose to honor the birth of Christ on a specific day if my culture did not do so?
Since I was grateful for Christ’s sacrifice every day of my life, was it really necessary to get all worked up for a symbolic day?
Is Christmas—as we know it in many parts of the world, especially the West—bringing honor to God?
Though my trip to China showed that I had the tendency to be influenced by the culture and environment I was in, it was precisely that realization that forced me to consider the true significance of Christmas and why I bothered to celebrate it.
The answer was obvious enough: If not for Christmas, there’s no hope for anyone of us. Christmas, like Easter, is a landmark event in the salvation story. If Jesus hadn’t humbled himself, taking the form of a feeble baby, experiencing weakness, trials, joys, and pains and eventually dying in our place, we would never have been reconciled with God. We would have nothing to live for and nothing to look forward to as we go through the challenges of life. And this is why I will always make it a point to celebrate Christmas, no matter where I am.
And though we can always express our thanksgiving for His sacrifice every day, it is a good practice to set aside a day to commemorate Jesus’ birth, reflect on what Christ’s birth signifies, and marvel at and worship Him.
Sure, we could get worked up at the way our culture celebrates Christmas today, which seems to strip the season of its true meaning. Instead of finding fault with the parties, family reunions, gifts and celebrations, however, how about reminding ourselves to be thankful that this same secular society allows us the opportunity to worship freely?
As Christians, we can choose to engage in thoughtful reflection on what it meant for God to send His only begotten son to become like you and me, just so man could be reconciled to Him (John 3:16-21).
So though I have my Christmas tree and lights up and have adopted some other traditions associated with Christmas, I am glad that this time around, I am more mindful of the reason for the season than I have been for years.
First published as a devotional article: It's Time to Re-Examine Why You Celebrate Christmas, YMI Today (Our Daily Bread Ministries), Dec. 2017.
YouVersion Five-day Christmas Devotional: It's Time to Re-Examine Why You Celebrate Christmas, 'Jesus: Joy of the Season' Reading Plan, Bible.com, Dec. 2017