I read this excerpt by Dale Kiefer last Christmas, and when I finished, that little proverbial light bulb over my head flickered on. It was an aha moment that set me flying free in truth.
At the time, all I had known about the author was that he was my friend’s dad. But this Thanksgiving, Dale and his wife Pat opened their home to us and our relationship with them shifted quickly from distant acquaintances to something like family.
This little article has offered much clarity, especially during this season.
A Tale of Two Christmases
By, Dale Kiefer
A couple years ago when I was going through my annual Christmas depression, I finally figured out how this Christmas thing is supposed to work. I had always thought that the Christmas we celebrate in America was somehow connected to the birth of Jesus Christ. It isn’t.
It dawned on me one day that there are two holidays, both called “Christmas,” happening simultaneously. The first one is celebrated by just about everybody in the United States where it is basically nothing more than a winter holiday, which is what most people call it anyway. I’ll call it Christmas-1. The second one is celebrated by Christians, as they contemplate the reality that God visited this planet in the form of a baby born in a small barn in Israel. I’ll call it Christmas-2.
Occasionally Christmas-2 intrudes into the first, like when Christ-focused Christmas carols are played on the radio. Sometimes Christmas-1 intrudes into the second, like when churches put up Christmas trees in their sanctuaries. By-and-large, however, the two are quite separate, but hardly anybody seems to notice. Most people go through life confused, thinking that there is only one Christmas, and Christians especially get all worked up every year because the holiday is so commercial. It would help if they would understand what I finally realized about the two Christmases.
For instance, ever since I was a small child I have heard plaintive calls to “put Christ back into Christmas.” Frankly, I don’t think He was ever part of Christmas-1, so there is no point in trying to put Him back into it. We should not be duped into thinking Christmas-1 has ever been a Christian holiday merely because the Lord’s name is the primary part of the word “Christmas.” Somewhere back in history, people decided to Christianize a secular celebration on December 25, but it remained essentially a secular holiday with an increasingly commercial emphasis. It’s the name “Christmas” that confuses so many people. It actually has nothing to do with Christ.
I know all about the well-intentioned but strained metaphors that people attempt to attach to Christmas-1. They see Christian imagery in candy canes, Christmas trees, gift-giving, Santa Claus, etc. We put angels and stars on top of our trees, apparently trying to convince ourselves that it is all about Jesus. It’s not. It’s humanistic and commercial. Besides, it’s not even Jesus’ birthday anyway. Based on biblical and archaeological evidence, He was born sometime in the spring or summer of the year.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Christmas-1. I like our Christmas tree, the special foods, the gatherings of family and friends, the TV shows and movies, and the gift exchanges. I have pleasant memories of past Christmas-1s. I am not surprised that people are shying away from calling it Christmas, and using terms like “Winter Holidays” and “Company Designated,” as my employer does. Yet, I think it’s kind of goofy to avoid calling it Christmas, for the obvious reason that that is what December 25 is. Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored or relabeled. Nonetheless, if people someday cease to refer to December 25 as Christmas, it will be disappointing, but it should not bother Christians all that much.
Now, concerning “putting Christ back into Christmas,” He has never been out of Christmas-2, so we don’t need to put Him back. He always was and always will be in it. He is the central and only message about it. The secular world can do whatever they want with Christmas-1, but they are unable to touch Christmas-2. We can celebrate Jesus’ birth anytime, and we don’t need the stuff associated with Christmas-1. If I could influence things, I would change the day to sometime in the middle of the year to help reduce the confusion, but no one is asking for my opinion about that.
Our problem is that we have hopelessly co-mingled Christmas-1 and Christmas-2, so we are confused and conflicted. We try to create the “Christmas spirit,” which has a lot more to do with Christmas-1 than with Christmas-2. If we are depressed at this time of year, it almost certainly is not because of the birth of Christ, but because of painful memories or the sadness of lost relationships and longings for irretrievable places and events from past Christmas-1s. If we are happy, partying, decorating and running up our Visa bills, that, too, probably has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, and everything to do with Christmas-1.
Our family celebrates both Christmases. We do many of the same things that everyone else in America does at Christmas-1 time. We enjoy that. I thank God that we can do those things.
We also celebrate Christmas-2. We do that throughout the year by constantly pursuing Christ, the God-man, the only One who has the wisdom and power to enable us to deal with the issues of life. Only He can reconcile us to God, forgive us and transform our lives. Our goal is to know Him, worship Him and make Him known.
I hope you enjoy Christmas-1. I hope you are changed by Christmas-2.