Defining Christmas for ourselves

Defining Christmas for ourselves

Ah, Christmastide is nigh — the traditional 12 days of Christmas that are about to bow. It’s such a wonderful time of the year on so many levels, religious, of course, and secular. 

And while the birth of the Christ child is a story thousands of years old and thousands more times told, how we in America celebrate Christmas is, at least on that secular side, a relatively young affair. 

As “The History of Christmas” website reminds us, it wasn’t until the second half of the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas, changing it from “a raucous carnival holiday into a family centered day of peace and nostalgia.”

“By the last quarter of the 19th century, America eagerly decorated trees, caroled, baked and shopped for the Christmas season,” the website notes. 

“Since that time, materialism, media, advertising and mass marketing have made Christmas what it is today.” For good and/or for ill. 

The website reminds that the traditions we enjoy at Christmas today “were invented by blending together customs from many different countries into what is considered by many to be our national holiday.”

And, yes, complaints about the “commercialization of Christmas” are nearly as old as is the “modern” celebration of Christmas in America.

Nonetheless, a very gratifying thing happens each year at this time for many, if not most, of us. 

As the hustle and bustle subsides, the globe seems to turn more slowly on its axis. It’s as if the world is exhaling. Christmas Eve brings families, friends and even strangers together.

One cannot help but to pause, to reflect, to take stock and to rejoice. And we affirm anew that it is in giving that we receive and that the long-ago promise of peace and goodwill are the eternal message of Christmas. 

It is well to recall what this very special season truly is all about. Listen, intently, to the silence of the holy night, then, later, to the joyful tolling of the bells heralding the arrival of yet another Christmastide. 

And no matter how “modern” society attempts to define Christmas, the truth is that the only real and abiding Christmas is the one we hold in our hearts and define for ourselves.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).