The joy of Christmas is wonderfully infectious, as the joy of celebrating a precious birth always is. Families gather to celebrate and reminisce; friends near and far reach out to each other. The great outpouring of love, caring and generosity of spirit make this time of year different from any other.
Christian churches are preparing to welcome the faithful. Charities, community groups and some of our media houses (and also many churches) are busy trying to ensure that no one is left out, collecting toys and other gifts for children whose families are not able to provide these seasonal pleasures; doing all they can to ensure that no child is forgotten. Food banks are soliciting so that no one goes hungry.
Yet, in the midst of all this goodwill, it may sometimes be overlooked that Christmas is a Christian celebration. We seem to have forgotten that “Jesus is the reason for the season”; that this “holiday” would not have been possible without Him; that to ignore Him as the central figure of this season is to render this season meaningless.
Living in a region as culturally and religiously diverse as the Greater Toronto Area means that there are many faiths and religious beliefs which are proudly and boldly observed, some with large parades and gala events and celebrations. And we welcome them, laud them and many of us celebrate with them. So why then are we so apologetic about our Christian observance? Why do we feel we need to minimize the religious significance of our Christian celebration in the erroneous belief that we are doing so to accommodate those of other beliefs or faiths?
We have to wonder what persons of other faiths must think of a religion that seems to want to apologize for itself at a time when it should be most exuberant. In fact, followers of other faiths have not expressed any discomfort with being greeted with “Merry Christmas”. Many would cheerfully greet Christians with the same expression.
It is true that we have become a more secular society, so that there appears to be much more focus on the commercial aspect of the season.
But even those gifts we find so much joy in giving, especially to the children, hark back to that first Christmas when the Wise Men similarly paid homage to our Lord at his birth.
Christmas is our religious celebration and we must never apologize for it. It is a time when Christians are meant to rejoice in and to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ, the miracle that remains with us more than two millenniums after His birth.
It is the time of year when people of the Christian faith embrace the hope for a better world as recorded in the New Testament: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Christians who find strength and comfort in these words must not allow themselves to be deterred. What other season of the year, what other special occasion, what other celebration brings such a sense of brotherhood, such a sense of caring, of love, of respect for each other?
The spirit of Christmas is like no other. And that is what makes it so special; that’s what makes us so special. We must never allow that to be lost.
It is to their credit that the City of Toronto’s Cavalcade of Lights at Nathan Phillips Square refers to the centerpiece as a Christmas tree and not as a “holiday tree”. It is not that the tree itself has any significance to the faith but it is the attempt to rename it that was significant. Other attempts at this kind of nonsensical renaming of standard (society-accepted) symbols of Christmas have to be rejected.
We consider ourselves an accommodating society, but it is an unwise accommodation to minimize the meaningful symbols of one group in a misguided attempt at religious appeasement. Christians should be wary of this shift towards a more secular Christmas celebration. Otherwise, where will Christian fellowship be in a generation? The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes freedom of religion, so that every faith group is allowed to practice its religious observances openly and without restraint. That includes Christians.