By Fr. Mark Sietsema
Don't look now, but it's coming soon to billboards and lawn signs near you: “Keep Christ in Christmas!” If memory serves, one first started seeing this slogan right around the time that the whole political correctness craze hit. Towns started removing manger scenes from their squares, and businesses stopped sending out Christmas cards and began to send “Holiday Greetings” instead.
And so, at indignation for being wished a “Happy Holiday” one too many times, some folks came up with the rallying cry, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” The mentality seems to be: “We Christians staked our claim on the last week of December, and no 'multi-culti' claim-jumpers can come and rename our season.” In fact, I once heard on the radio an evangelical Christian who proposed that we take it a step further and put a long I in the pronunciation of Christmas, i.e. “Christ”mas.
There is a problem with this campaign: what exactly does one do to keep Christ in Christmas? Is it just a matter of putting manger scenes in public places? Does it boil down to defiantly wishing everyone (even your Jewish neighbors) a “Merry Christmas”? Is that honestly going to do anything to roll back the commercialization of the season?
After all, the conversion of Christmas from a religious observance to a materialistic spending spree began long before political correctness, long before anyone thought of leaving Christ out of Christmas. Experience teaches that people will gladly mention the name of Christ whenever there's money to be made off of it. If the secularization of the season is the sickness, then emphatically calling it “Christmas” again isn't the remedy.
For that matter... which Christ should we keep in Christmas? My fear is that the Christ that most people want in their Christmas is the little baby Jesus–cute and cuddly, “no crying he makes” –in other words, the Christ who asks nothing of anybody and makes us feel good about spending money at the store. As long as we keep that Christ in Christmas, I suppose everyone can still be happy and no one is offended.
But what about the Christ who said, “Whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33)? Or the one who said, “Beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). When you are opening gifts with your family, is that the Christ people want to keep in their Christmas?
If you keep the Christ of the Gospels in your Christmas, you're likely to wind up without a Christmas at all; or, at least, not the kind of Christmas celebration that the signs and billboards are trying to uphold, not the kind of Christmas that the malls and merchandizers want you to have.
I have a suggestion to smooth over the problem inherent in Christian sloganeering. Instead of focusing on making everyone else in America keep “Christ” in their Christmas, let each one of us here in our parishes focus on keeping something else.
Let’s keep the “Mass” in Christmas.
“Christmas” is from Old English Cristes Maesse, “Christ's Mass” - Mass being the Old English word for the Divine Liturgy.
Christmas is not first of all a day, but a doing: it is the Eucharistic worship that Christians offer in honor of the birth of their Savior. For those who have linguistic curiosity, Christmas is not the only -mas in the English language: there is also Marymas (August 15), Candlemas (February 2), Michaelmas (September 29), Martinmas (November 11), and Allhallowmas (November 1).
But if we say “Keep the Mass in Christmas,” the point is this. Christmas isn't really Christ-mas without the Mass, without the Divine Liturgy. Christmas isn't Christmas if we don't make a point of coming together on the appointed day, with all the people of God, to observe the commandment that He gave, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Christmas isn't Christmas if we don't share the Eucharistic meal of His Body and Blood with one another in the Church. How is Christmas complete without receiving your most important gift?
Christ came to earth, not simply to be born in a lowly stable in Palestine, but to be born into the humble stable of the soul of each one of us. Through the sacraments He enters into our persons so that, as the Apostle Paul says, Christ is formed in you; and with Christ in you, you have the hope of glory.
Keep the Mass in your Christmas! Of course you should get together with family and friends. Of course you should open your presents around the tree. Of course you should enjoy your eggnog and mulled wine and ham and turkey and roast beast.
But don't forget the Mass! Don't skip the Liturgy! Don't leave out Holy Communion. If you do so, you are missing the real Christmas altogether. Come to church and worship the newborn King in the way that he Himself commands, by eating His Body and drinking His Blood. Keep the “Mass” in Christmas, and you will never lose “Christ” from your Christmas either.
God bless you and grant to you and your loved ones a most blessed celebration of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This article was published in the "Orthodox Observer" of December 2011 (pp.8 and 30)