by Claire Jones
What a year! From a pandemic to political unrest to hurricanes, 2020 has consisted of one stressful event after the other. At times, the changes have come so quickly that watching the news could give you whiplash. However, December is now here, bringing Christmas with all speed. And for once, I am not alone in the desire to start celebrating as soon as possible. Since Halloween is not one of my favorite holidays (although Thanksgiving is), I am often overeager to start the celebration. Around mid-October I break out my Christmas favorites like Pentatonix’s “Little Drummer Boy” and Wham’s “Last Christmas” (in full—I definitely listen to some songs all year long) and wait impatiently for the rest of the world to catch up. Not so this year.
This year, I saw Christmas lights going up on houses before Halloween was over. I saw snowmen, reindeer, and Santas next to ghosts, skeletons, and spiders. Most excitingly, Christmas music started playing on the radio during the second week of November, at least two weeks earlier than usual. The reason? So many people had called in requesting this or that Christmas song that the radio stations decided to just start playing Christmas music. All of this is a good thing. Christmas cheer is starting earlier than ever. However, my natural curiosity arose as well. Why were so many others so eager for Christmas this year?
Because Christmas more than any other holiday is the season of joy and hope. For people all around the world, after the exhausting and often depressing events of the past year, Christmas is a beacon of light for a worn-out world. It really is rather hard to be pessimistic while watching waving snowmen and listening to Jingle Bells. Also, who would turn down the chance for Christmas cookies early?
Nevertheless, despite the general excitement, there will be some changes to how we celebrate Christmas this year. Christmas shopping will be done mostly online, which has changed the holiday job opportunities a little bit. Rather than hiring extra cashiers, Target and Walmart and other retailers are hiring people who are willing to help with the shipping supply and demand, moving pallets of goods, packing boxes, and the like. As travel remains somewhat discouraged, “I’ll be home for Christmas, but only in my dreams” becomes more akin to the truth than usual. Also, the number of Christmas parties to attend will most likely be much less than usual. Public events like caroling and Christmas parades may be much more difficult to participate in. Given all of these changes, why is the hype for Christmas so high?
The secret lies in what Christmas represents. At the core of it, although we often forget, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of a baby who would save the whole world from sickness and despair. Despite the over-commercialism, Christmas is not about toys or the candy or who has the best decorations. Christmas is the beginning of the world’s start-over. It is a time of hope and promises fulfilled. We give gifts to remind us of the greatest gift ever given. We throw parties to celebrate the birth of the savior. No matter what changes 2020 brings to this Christmas season, the meaning of Christmas remains the same, and so our joy continues.
However, this is all a very Christian perspective. Does my interpretation of the excitement for Christmas remain true for the increasingly secular portion of the world? I would argue yes emphatically! Christmas in many ways remains the time of the year when the secular world most closely interacts with the Christian world. We can’t help it. Every other song on the radio mentions Jesus in some way. Whether or not you notice it, these songs are ingrained in your subconscious. Nativity scenes are sold right next to the Nutcrackers. Christmas trees are topped with the Star of Bethlehem (yes, that is what the star atop your tree represents). For many people, Christmas is the one time a year that they go to church.
Even if you don’t attend church or display a nativity scene in your home or on your front yard, Christmas in the Christian sense is still predominant in our world. Christmas is so filled with Christian imagery that it is impossible to escape it. It’s even in the name. We watch it every year in A Charlie Brown Christmas, or we read about it in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Even in purely secular movies, the idea of Christmas is slipped in through the abundant supply of miracles that take place around December 25. After all, all of the little miracles are just pointing back to the big miracle of Christ’s birth.
However, the biggest sign that the world still embraces Christmas in a Christian sense is the feeling of hope pervading the holiday. For most people, Christmas means that things will go right. Christmas is a symbol of something to look forward to, a promised time of joy and fellowship with those who are most important to us. Despite the stress of the commercialized parts, it is hard to truly be a Grinch or a Scrooge during Christmas. Between the music, the movies, the food, and the time off from real life, Christmas joy is infectious. We just happened to need an earlier dose than usual this year.
In many ways Christmas will be different this year. However, some things will stay the same. Christmas music is still playing, alternately reminding us that “Santa Claus is coming to town!” and of the birth of the Savior. Christmas lights are still up on many houses in the neighborhood. Perhaps an alternate to caroling or parties could be car rides in search of the most festive house in your neighborhood. While we may not be able to travel to visit family this Christmas season, there are many new ways of online communication and community. Zoom in to talk to grandparents on Christmas morning or during Christmas dinner. Take the time usually spent shopping at crowded stores and watch a classic Christmas movie with your family. Despite the differences, Christmas is still a time of great joy and of hope that things will be better in the future. Not a return to normal, but a hope for good changes. Maybe part of the Christmas experience this year is a return to the core meaning of Christmas. Charlie Brown figured it out, so we can too.
After the rollercoaster of 2020, we need the joy and hope of Christmas more than ever. Luckily, despite the changes, Christmas is still the same at its core. That can provide some much-needed stability and respite after a tempestuous year. Take a moment. Turn on your radio. Listen to the Christmas music. Breathe. Now, go forth and enjoy Christmas to the fullest.