Merry-Christmas-holiday-family-fun-time-lifepopper-food-magic-gathering-6‘Tis the season to be jolly!

Strike that. First, we need a few evangelical leaders to register complaints about our culture’s overly sentimentalized, consumerist take on Christmas.

It seems that every year I come across blog posts chiding Christians for allowing the shopping season to overtake the church’s calendar. Or bemoaning the early encroachment of Christmas music (“It’s the most wonderful time of the” — NOT YET!). Or reminding us that the real reason for the season must remain front and center in a world of sentimental mush.

The most recent take comes from Scot McKnight, who says that the Charles Dickens vision of Christmas (“about joy and singing and big family dinners and dashing to and fro giving and receiving, and caring for the poor and turkeys and frosty windows”) isn’t really Christian at all. In contrast, Scot lays out all the themes of the first Christmas, and these themes are about Israel, the Messiah, and a family under threat; they have nothing to do with snuggled up families watching snow and decorating Christmas trees.

Scot is absolutely right about Charles Dickens’ view of Christmas not being synonymous with the Bible’s. But behold a very good point, with a perfectly wrong conclusion! “I say the less Dickens the better,” he writes.

Bah humbug to Scot’s bah humbug!

I agree we need more emphasis on the real meaning of Christmas, but I believe, in this, Dickens is our ally, not our foe. Why? Because the Dickens vision of Christmas would be impossible apart from a society in which the values of Christianity had taken root. G. K. Chesterton described Dickens’ Christmas as a defense of “eating, drinking and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for the holy day which is really a holiday.”

“Joy and singing and big family dinners and giving and receiving and caring for the poor” may not be what the original Christmas was all about, but it’s certainly part of Christianity as an atmosphere, is it not? And no one succeeded at creating “atmosphere” better than Dickens.

Should we not marvel that even in our increasingly secular age people still sing carols packed with biblical truth every year? “Joy to the world,” indeed. As a fragmented society, we’ve lost the shared culture of “music that everyone knows,” except in those rare instances when a song communicates such joy that everyone starts to sing along. (Cue Pharrell’s “Happy,” please!) And except, once a year, when we reach back in time and listen to holiday recordings older than our parents, and sing along to hymns older than our great-grandparents. Sing along, ye cluttered aisles of Walmart!

Should we not marvel that in a world of broken homes that big family dinners still take place? That reunions still happen, and that people put aside their differences to share a meal? When Jesus spoke about His coming kingdom, He talked about food and drink, and the table. Surely in our Christmas celebrations we can hear a faint echo pointing us to the Church’s great feast at the end of time!

Should we not marvel that, in a dog-eat-dog world of competition run by the evolutionary motto of “survival of the fittest,” our culture devotes time to running “to and fro giving and receiving and caring for the poor?” It was Dickens who wrote of Christmas from the perspective of the poor, lifting up the needs of the forgotten in a bold challenge to the powers that be. Surely, we can see in this the image of the mother and Child, unknown the world, known to the heavens.

Christianity is not generosity, but generosity is part of Christianity. Who knows? Perhaps when caught up in the moment of cultural gratitude, the secular heart may long for Someone to thank.

But what of the sentimental mush included on the table for Christmas? What of the dangers of consumerism that infiltrate our Christmas cheer?

There’s no doubt those problems exist, but at the Christmas table, I’m not one to insist that the only thing we eat is carved turkey and mashed potatoes. Pass the banana pudding and Grandma’s sweet potato casserole, please. Yes, let’s make sure to glean sustenance from the main dish, but a few sugar cookies won’t ruin the meal.

Scot is right to remind the church about our mission “to tell the real story about Christmas, about a God who entered into the world in a socially shamed family in order to lift the socially shamed to the highest name ever.” Yes and Amen.

Playing Scrooge to his Scrooge, however, I would only add: the Dickens vision of Christmas does not take away from the truth, but complements it. ‘Tis the season for joy and feasting! So give me a hearty helping of meat and potatoes, and another slice of Dickens’ pie.

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10 thoughts on “In Defense of Christmas Cheer”

  1. Justin H says:

    I’m in agreement with this post, and I’m thankful you took time to post it. Though, as Christians, we do need to very cautious of the distractions, the consumerism, and the host of other sins this season can more easily beget, yet, at the same time, we must also be careful not to be made to feel shamed or guilty for celebrating many of the God-given blessings this season highlights.

    Colossians 2:16 and Romans 14:5 -10 must cause us to pause before passing out judgment, allowing our brothers and sisters the freedom to observe special and “holy” days in honor of the Lord, as well as the freedom not to.

    Therefore, I, too, raise my glass to thank the Lord for the music, the meals, the reunions, the presents, the charity, and the gospel opportunities that this season allows.

    1. Carter says:

      Well put! But couldn’t this have waited till after Thanksgiving? That’s what Jesus would have done

      1. Trevin Wax says:

        Well, my dad’s side of the family has celebrated Christmas on Thanksgiving for 20+ years, so Thanksgiving has always been ‘Christmas 1.0′ for me anyway. ;-)

  2. Justin H says:

    Carter: Ha…you’re probably right about that!

    1. Jim N says:

      I agree. We have much to celebrate! Yet for most Christians in the world we are just entering Advent, awaiting his coming and thinking about the wonder, release and judgement in his return. ( I’m afraid your sectarian roots may be showing, Trevor.). For us, we struggle to remind our congregations and families that while Christmas has arrived at Walmart, Christians throughout the centuries have heightened the joy by recognizing our plight if he did not come the first time and our assurance that he will come again. I’m afraid that the commercialism of the world is not our greatest enemy. Our greatest image is the commercialism in us…. A good dose of Advent reflection can do much to allow Gods cleansing Word to prepare our hearts. To put it another way; “Joy to the World” is so much more meaningful when we have considered the worlds state (including the world in us) and cried out “O come, O come Emanuel”

  3. Scot McKnight says:

    Fair enough, Trevin. I’d agree that Dickens complements or provides an entry, but he remains quite short of the real thing.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      No question about that. But now you’re making yourself sound like less of a Scrooge! ;-)

  4. Tim says:

    By socially shamed do you mean “sinner”? Would Paul have said ” Christ sent into the world to save the socially shamed who I am the worst socially shamed individual………

  5. Joe says:

    Sorry Scott, I’m with Trevin on this one. We are pretty sure that December 25th isn’t actually Jesus’ birthday, and that the holiday has pagan roots anyway. I believe we need to celebrate, but subversively. Nothing is wrong with the red and green, giving gifts, sentimentalism that fills up this time of year. But, I do think Christians need to actively reveal how incarnation affects their celebration. We should reject the consumerism, but replace it with things that remind people that the God who is rich became poor so that we could be made rich. Thanks for the post!

  6. Noel Adams says:

    Preach it, Trevin! I just loved this post! Social media is so depressing at this time of the year when everyone gets preachy and religious! I’m partial to Fezziwig, myself!

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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