I was in a hardware store in small town America, somewhere out in “Fly-Over Country” as the east and west coast thumb-suckers call the middle of our country. If the liberal dweebs truly knew the people they were belittling as unimportant, they would know that they ignore them to their peril. But I digress.
The lady salesclerk – yes, ladies, including the female owner of the store, can be quite knowledgeable about hardware. The lady helping me had a fussy toddler in one arm while she helped me find the right sheet metal screws with the other. (Family is important in fly-over country.) As the child continued to fuss, one customer said, “Looks like someone doesn’t want anything for Christmas. Santa is still making his list.” The little girl – who will probably know hardware as well as her mama by the time she graduates middle school – got very still and stopped fussing.
This is an example of how Christmas has gone full circle.
Jesus was not born on December 25. Church historians believe Jesus was born in the spring of the year. However, the people of the dark ages of Europe held pagan festivals in honor of the winter solstice. They, as do we, need the occasional holiday, so instead of forbidding the people from celebrating the festival, Church leaders founded a religious celebration in its place. They called it Christ Mass.
This in no way denies the reality of the miraculous birth, sinless life, and atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This merely points out how we came to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25.
You wonder what this has to do with a hardware store. Follow me here. As the Christ Mass (or Christmas) became increasingly popular with the people. Various elements were added to it. In the Netherlands, Bishop Nicholas started the tradition of going around the night before the celebration and giving treats and small presents to “good little girls and boys.” Often he was called Bishop Claus, which is a short form of Nicholas. Thus, when the Catholic Church canonized him and declared him a saint, he became Saint Nicholas, or in the Dutch, Santa Claus.
Centuries later Santa Claus was given his jolly, fat, chimney-crawling-in-a-red-suit, reindeer driving persona in a poem authored by Clement Clarke Moore in 1823 entitled “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” or more commonly “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
This is where things started to come full circle. Instead of being a festival to honor the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas began slowly reverting to – at least in the minds of many – nothing more than a gift giving festival at the winter solstice that causes great anxiety, stress, greed, disappointment, and lack of gratitude among those who have forgotten “the reason for the season.”
The only giving we really need to be concerned about is the gift of God’s Son to bring joy and salvation to the world. Instead, kids are concerned about getting what they want, parents go deeply into debt each year so that their kids won’t curse at them for not getting them what they demanded, and stores fear bankruptcy if they don’t make at least a minimum amount in sales at Christmas time.
I suppose this is inevitable since one poll recently indicated that for the first time in American history less than half of Americans attend church regularly. Another poll indicated that less than half of millennials believe in God at all.
Those people need our pity. They seek out joy and fulfillment in things that will never provide it on a scale that can be met only by a relationship with God. Instead, they seek meaning in drugs, food, sex, money, power, all the things that might make someone feel good for a moment, but cannot provide lasting peace, joy and fulfillment.Back to the hardware store: as I watched the little girl become very good at the threat of Santa not bringing her presents, it hit me that Christmas has reverted to a pagan festival for far too many people. There is more to Christmas than the all-consuming gift-getting practiced in too many homes. Unless these families one day discover the true wonder of Christmas, all they will have left from the gift getting season is a huge pile of discarded packaging.
Steve “Doc” Troxel, Ph.D.