Merry Christmas – What Exactly are we Celebrating?

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. There are numerous implications in that short statement. In the coming days, I want to flesh out what this all means – from where did the term come? why celebrate a birth? who exactly is this Jesus? did we get the date right or does it matter? should we emphasize the virgin birth? what is the significance of the angels? how important are the claims of paganism in our Christmas celebrations? where did Santa Claus come from? and a host of other questions.

I have been fascinated with the celebration of Christmas in countries outside of America. Singapore, for instance, is about one-third Buddhist, under 20% Muslim (these are mostly ethnic Malays), less than 20% Christian, and then a mix of Hindu (these are mostly Indian immigrants), Taoism (which is difficult to separate from Buddhism in the minds of most non-Buddhists), and a smattering of smaller groups. Nevertheless, when you walk into a shopping mall in Singapore, you would think you are in the US or Europe with all the Christmas decorations. These range from Santa and his sleigh to Christmas trees to nativity sets. Malaysia, which is an officially Muslim country, has the same kinds of decorations minus the nativity sets.

Many non-Christians are all too happy to observe at least their version of Christmas – and they even call it Christmas (unlike some of the politically correct in America who cannot get celebrate much more than Happy Holidays). Sadly, Christmas in most countries in which it is celebrated is less about Jesus and more about sales. Retailers in the US are delighted with Christmas 2014 – it looks like sales will be up a few percent, while Christian freedoms will be down a few percent. While the celebration of the dollar (or Euro) is front and center for some, I am thankful that many of will still be old-fashioned enough to keep the focus on Jesus.