What is the Meaning of Christmas?

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Dec 20, 2008

"Christmas is the Disneyfication of Christianity."
Don Cupitt

Christmas is in the air long before Thanksgiving turkey is on the table. From the commercials on the television to the shelves at Walmart, merchants make sure we have time to buy that perfect gift for that perfect someone. 

Ever since I heard Reggie McNeal say that the greatest harm that can occur to any organization is to get its leaders obsessed with the wrong questions, I have been pondering the quality of my questions and the quality of my answers. And at this time of the year I find myself going back to this foundational question, "What is the meaning of Christmas?" 

A child will answer the question differently than a grandparent; a mother will answer it differently than a father; a baker will answer it differently than a Salvation Army bell-ringer. 

Here are a few of my answers. 

Christmas is memories. I had nearly 20 Christmas celebrations as a son and brother. We went Christmas caroling; we gave each other modest gifts; we read the Christmas story, and we went sleigh riding. Different memories accrued as I became a husband, father and grandfather. Each one informs what Christmas means to me. 

Christmas is family. I have always thought of family when I have thought of Christmas. Sometimes those thoughts are sad because of some who have passed on. 2008 will always be known as the year Evie lost a sister and I lost a brother. But, thoughts of family also bring great joy as we cherish every good moment. 

Christmas is food. What would Christmas be without the seasonal delicacies of our kitchens? When our family arrives in Pennsylvania from Minnesota for Christmas, they will find freshly baked cookies, pumpkin bread, the world-famous Meyer crepes, green bean casserole and all of the other goodies our family loves. I can almost smell the aromas from the kitchen as I write these words. 

Christmas is decorations. One of the most powerful messages of Christmas emerges from all of the beautiful decorations. Whether it is in our home or places of business or in the mall or on our lawns, the bright lights and colorful luminaries inform our souls. Each Christmas ornament on our tree and each artifact in our house tells its own unique story. 

Christmas is music. I love Christmas music. We have it in our home, in our car, in the bells on our campus, and at our annual "Christmas at Valley Forge" concert. I love the popular Christmas carols. I love the old traditional music of Handel's "Messiah." I love country and jazz and instrumental Christmas music. Without the songs of Christmas, December would seem like just another month. 

Christmas is gifts. In 1989 my mother died and that year Evie had a dear friend paint a picture of our family farm as a gift for me. Nearly 20 years have passed and I still treasure that gift. On my office wall is that constant reminder of my heritage. How wise are the words, "The gift without the giver is bare." May our gifts, no matter their cost, always express the love and appreciation we have for friends and family. 

Christmas is sacred. Without the sacred meaning of Christmas, no other meanings matter. The story is simple: He left His place, to come to our place, to take our place, so we could go to His place. And whether the story is told at the Christmas Spectacular in Radio City Music Hall or at a little country church, the message is the same. 

Sure, in some places "Christmas is the Disneyfication of Christianity" (Don Cupitt). But in our places we know it means so much more. For as Roy L. Smith said, "He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree." 

Merry Christmas. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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