Monday, December 26, 2011

What Does Christmas Mean?

I got into a little bit of trouble on Christmas Eve because when asked to share my thoughts about the holiday, I remarked how Christmas was a tool used by the Romans to co-opt the pagan holiday celebrating the birth of Saturn and assign it to Christ.

Not that I want to sound like a Grinch or anything--I'm not full of humbuggery about the holiday. It's just that, like most questions of "meaning", I tend to drift back to my undergrad Philosophy days and the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein. He said, rather practically in my opinion, that to talk about the inherent "meaning" of something is not that useful. Things don't mean anything outside of how they're used. It's like talking about the meaning of a chair. Yuck. But how it's used..? That can be more instructive. Sometimes it's used to sit on; other times it's used to knock people over the head with. So what does it mean to be a chair? Well, it means exactly how it's used. In other words, meaning is always a derivative of use.

So, the more practical question about Christmas isn't what it might inherently mean, but how did you put it into action in your life? Did you go on a spending binge and rejoice in the materialism afforded our modern society? Did you gather around the bible and read about the birth of Christ? Maybe you did both, deftly dancing between the stories of elves and Santa Claus and the virgin birth of the Son of God. Kind of a tough juxtaposition.

Thankfully, I have a wife who inspires and grounds me. What she did for Christmas? Well, of course we did the materialistic thing--I mean seriously, we're not savages here. BUT, and this is a big but (I know, hilarious), what I watched my wife do was pick out three families in need and engage in a campaign of charity, gift-giving, and joyful service. And she got the whole family involved. It was awesome. I don't want to go into details because I don't want to sully the pureness of her actions. But it was the most Christ-centric Christmas I've experienced in a long time. And why? Because my wife actually went out and did something Christ-like.

I suppose what I'm saying is if we inventory all the time and energy around the things we actually did over the holiday, maybe a quick reading of Luke on Christmas Eve doesn't stack up well against all the hours of Black Friday'ing, Cyber Monday'ing, shopping, buying, wrapping, etc.

Look, Christmas has a history of being co-opted by the powerful. I'm just wondering if maybe we should put a little more thought into what we're actually doing, and maybe we can claim a bigger portion of it back. It's a lot to ask, I know. And I've got a few new toys to play with.

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