What is Christmas?
This year Christmas has felt very different to me. Perhaps it’s because last year I spent it as a missionary in the Mexico MTC or perhaps, and most likely, it’s because I am very much a different person.
In all honesty, December has been hard. It’s sucked the life right out of me and left me wondering how much more I can take. The once beautiful Christmas lights on houses and trees hurt my eyes and even the tearing of paper to wrap gifts hurts my ears and makes me cringe. The joy I once found in sitting by the fire and watching a Christmas film with my family is not the same and my love for this seasonal music no longer exists.
I was laying in an MRI tube listening to the radio through the headphones they’d given me when a Christmas song came on. Sure I’d chosen one that wasn’t playing holiday songs I rolled my eyes and told myself that if it wasn’t over soon I could ask for the station to be changed.
The music that so many find beautiful and enjoy throughout the season causes me so much pain. I cover my ears while wearing special earplugs during concerts and musical numbers. I look for the closest exit in case it becomes too much. There was no desire to sing out loud or dance around the kitchen to ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’.
The decorations were loud, the lights blinding, and the joy lost.
I sat in the basement those first few nights of December feeling numb to it all. It was all so bright but so dull at the same time and all I could think was, “This is all so happy. I’m too sad for Christmas this year.”
I haven’t felt the traditional joy or magic of the season this year, and although it hurt at first that I couldn’t find that happiness it’s taught me a lot.
In feeling all of the commercial traditions and hype of Christmas fade and become irrelevant I was left to focus on the simplicity and majesty of a story from so long ago.
I spent a lot of time looking at nativity scenes, listening to hymns, and reading messages from past Christmas devotionals. I pondered about Mary and her journey; how obedient and compliant she was to all God asked of her. I thought of the angels looking down on this glorious event, knowing the plan and all that this baby boy would become, how He would save us all.
Somewhere in all my pondering and self reflection I asked myself, “What is Christmas?” Perhaps I have some memory loss and maybe I just never fully registered what Christmas was, but it got me thinking, and wondering how many of us even understand what Christmas truly is?
If you google it, the first answer to come up is this:
1.the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25 in the Western Church.
As many of us would agree, that’s correct. Christmas is the annual celebration of Christ’s birth, celebrated by Christians all over the world, but what is Christmas really? What is Christmas to you?
I thought about this and I was surprised when I didn’t really know the answer.
So I did some self searching, some pondering, and started looking for my answer. As the season wore on I heard lines from songs that touched me, read quotes that made me pause in wonder, and welcomed revelation that will forever change how I think about Christmas.
I’ve come to more fully understand that Christmas and Easter are undeniably tied. We ought to remember not only the birth of Jesus Christ, but also His life, because were it not for His obedience, goodness, and love, we would have no reason to celebrate. Had He not lived faithfully and atoned perfectly, it would just be the birth of another baby boy. Christmas is the celebration, not only that He was born, but that He lived, died, and lives again.
In the First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional this year Elder Craig C. Christensen gave a talk called ‘The Fulness of the Christmas Story’. I loved this perspective and the thoughts he shared so much that I’ve read it over and over again.
He taught, “Christmas is not only a celebration of how Jesus came into the world but also of knowing who He is—our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—and of why He came.”
“As President Gordon B. Hinckley explained: “There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.”2 “
All of a sudden Christmas became so clear. We are, in part, celebrating the Plan of Salvation, the fact that there is now meaning to our mortal journey here. I think of how we knew the plan, whether part of the heavenly multitudes that night or not, we understood just as the angel did, and perhaps more than those present at His birth, the magnitude and majesty of what was unfolding; the perfect plan put in motion.
Wherever we were then, I think of how blessed I am to understand it now. We learned that He would perform the central role as Creator and Redeemer of the world and trusted Him. We had confidence in this plan and we put our faith in Jesus, trusting that through Him we could be whole. The Christmas story truly climaxed during those last three days of the Savior’s life.
“These are the “good tidings of great joy”23 we celebrate at Christmas—not only that Christ was born but that He lived among us, gave His life for us, was resurrected, and ultimately “finished the work which [His Father gave Him] to do.”24 We rejoice because the confusion and chaos of this world can be hushed by the promise made to us from the very beginning—a promise fulfilled by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For this reason, the story of Christmas is not fully told without the story of Easter. It was the Savior’s atoning sacrifice that made holy the silent night in Bethlehem. It was His gift of redemption that caused us to shout for joy in the premortal world—this gift that heals our sickness, restores our sight, and wipes away all tears.25
The light we love at Christmas emanates from the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. The story we cherish at Christmas tells of our Father’s plan of happiness, which Christ made possible. The gift that makes the Christmas season sacred is His very life, which He gave that we might have everlasting life.”
So, now that we understand what Christmas truly is, the question ought to be asked, what are we going to do about it?
Christmas is a holiday, yes, but more than a celebration it is a state of mind.
Thomas S. Monson taught about the Spirit of Christmas, “Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God. During His earthly ministry, He taught men the higher law. His glorious gospel reshaped the thinking of the world. He blessed the sick. He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He even raised the dead to life. To us He has said, ‘Come, follow me.’ As we seek Christ, as we find Him, as we follow Him, we shall have the Christmas spirit, not for one fleeting day each year, but as a companion always. We shall learn to forget ourselves. We shall turn our thoughts to the greater benefit of others.”
We’ve been taught the the spirit of Christmas, in all of its goodness, joy, and kindness, is really the spirit of Christ.
I think of the campaign set forth by the church to Light the World this December, and that if we think about it this is what Christmas is all about. Not only were we invited to serve as the Savior did, but to serve as He did, ensuring that if we followed through we would be more like Him. The acts of serviced we were invited to perform were never meant to overwhelm us or bring added stress to our lives. The whole point was to find ways to serve every single day, making a difference and by the end hopefully recognizing a difference within ourselves.
In my simplifying of the season this year I had more time to focus on the true meaning, and that has made all the difference. And you know, there isn’t one thing I’ve missed. Santa, sleigh rides, and presents are fun traditions, but none of them have true meaning and none of them last beyond December 25th. I think of the Grinch, and though he wasn’t focusing on our Savior, he understood that Christmas is not about the commercial hype or fun.
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
Please remember what Christmas truly is. As I was writing this post I felt some stress and urgency as the days went by and it was still unfinished. I kept thinking, “I can’t post this after Christmas Eve, no one will even care enough to read it.”
But Christmas lasts far beyond December 26th, please remember that.
This year I hope something touches you, whether it be a line from a hymn or a scripture, something that sparks a change. When the day has passed and you’re putting away your decorations spend some time with the baby Jesus. Hold the different pieces of the nativity scene and ponder on their different perspectives.
I hope that you make a commitment to act more like He would, and certainly to be more like Him. Not the jolly old fellow who we so often get caught up in, but Jesus Christ, the true reason for the season, and the one who gives true meaning to our lives.
Don’t forget that Christmas is a 365 day endeavor, and that we can be better.
Light the world, live the gospel, keep giving, serving, & loving, but most of all keep coming to know Him. He lives, I testify of that.
May you have a very merry, Christ-centered Christmas.