Christmas has something in common with St. Paul – it wants to be all things to all people.
The holiday’s tangled genome includes a long, dominant strand of Christianity. Its name means “Mass of Christ,” the day on which Catholicism historically observed the birth of Jesus. For most devout Christians today, it is still about a divine rescue mission to save a fallen race.
Yet the DNA of Christmas includes many other strands, some ancient and pagan, others modern and secular. Its near-coincidence with the winter solstice is no coincidence. Its festivities – as opposed to its Christian religious observances – have roots in pre-Christian Germanic and Roman celebrations.
The revels and partying of the holiday season have gotten so out of hand at times that many Christians condemned the whole thing. Today, the holiday is dominated by a frenzy of marketing. Retailers live or die by the season’s sales. Crass commercialism, yes – but also a grand outpouring of generosity. Most of those purchases will wind up under the tree or otherwise be given as gifts.
It’s a strange and wonderful holiday that features a unique jumble of mismatched traditions: Nativity creches and flying reindeer; Jesus, Mary and Santa Claus; midnight mass and well-lubricated parties; candy canes and eggnog; wreaths and swags of lights; Tiny Tim and the Grinch; “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bell Rock.”
There’s something in this holiday to delight almost everyone. To our readers – whoever you are, whatever your beliefs – a merry Christmas and a happy holiday.