What should the celebration of Christmas look like?
Christmas might be unique among the various celebrations in the multitude of ways it is celebrated around the world and the various meanings that it holds to different people.
This being our family’s 4th Christmas away from Singapore, we’ve become accustomed to how Christmas is celebrated in Japan, a non-Christian country. Aside from the familiar decorations and music, there are some unique practices that have developed over the years. For one, did you know that KFC chicken is commonly eaten for Christmas Eve dinner here? My own personal favorite is how children are earnestly told that Santa Claus enters the house via the window since chimneys are not common!
As amusing as it is to look at another country’s traditions, when I take a similar step back to examine my own non-Christian childhood, it is strange that Christmas is celebrated the way it is in steaming tropical Singapore where pine trees could never grow, snow is a thing made at dessert stalls, and a strange man entering houses in the night is not welcome. Somewhere in history this familial image of Christmas trees, reindeer and Santa has cemented itself into the popular lexicon of most modern countries. This image varies slightly between regions but is largely the same.
For children in particular, Christmas is welcomed as a time when one receives presents (mostly condition-free!) from family. Thus companies selling consumer products lean heavily into the Christmas season with promotions and advertisements because it is a time to encourage buying.
Turning away from the material to the spiritual, Christmas also seems to be universally understood as a time for giving and being generous. It is a time to demonstrate human warmth and charity. It is almost always a time for positivity and good cheer. Certainly, there is something magical and fuzzy about Christmas otherwise it would not be such a well-regarded holiday!
But once we remove these worldly trappings, what does Christmas look like? And how should we celebrate it?
Looking back on the very first Christmas, the simple scene painted in Luke 2:7 where Jesus is simply wrapped in cloth and laid in a cold hard manger by his parents is meager compared to our modern expectations. While details are scant, we can imagine that after a long journey and delivery of a baby it was fitting that their time be spent together in quietness and rest.
But celebration is not restricted merely to the earthly realm as in heaven a host of angels was rejoicing in the birth of the Messiah, God’s chosen one, the Saviour of God’s people:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”
Such was the mighty chorus of the angels that rang out throughout the heavenly realm!
Indeed the praise and celebration that occurred that night in heaven makes everything that has been done on earth since pale in comparison. No one could be more pleased and joyful at the birth of Jesus, than God the Father was that night.
So we as God’s children echo this mighty cry… Glory to God in the highest! We celebrate the birth of our Holy Redeemer and Saviour. While the angels declared this message just to the shepherds, we bring this message far and wide… Peace on earth for all mankind! So that all may hear and know that it was for this purpose that Christmas originated.
For this is the original meaning of Christmas and this is what celebrating Christmas should look on us with whom He is pleased.
Dear brothers and sisters of True Way Presbyterian,
My family and I would like to wish you all a very blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year. May Christmas always be to us a time of celebration and rejoicing in all that the Lord has done for us.
Sean Tan (Missionary to Japan)
December 25, 2022