It's not what you probably think. Let's start with this question:
Is Christmas only for Christians?
What a simple, yet challenging, question to answer! Think about it for a moment and I suspect you’ll agree. It’s a bit of a conundrum.
Yes, Christmas is a Christian holiday, a time when people who believe in Jesus celebrate His birth. This Jesus, Christians believe, is God-become-man, a real person who walked on this earth for 33 years, some 2018 years ago. Divinity encased in flesh, from humble beginnings in a stable to an earthly “kingdom” spanning the centuries since and reaching into an uncountable number of hearts and homes all over this planet.
The "re-creation" of Christmas
At its heart, the birth of Jesus is what Christmas is all about. Yet over the years, Christmas has taken on many new inventions and forms. The most significant of these, of course, has been Santa Claus.
For sure, the idea of Santa came from a real source. There was a real-life model in the form of St. Nicholas, a monk whom historians believe was born around 280 A.D. in Patara, what is now called Myra, in modern-day Turkey. St. Nicholas became the stuff of legends because of his kindness and piety. Fast-forward to the last few centuries, when St. Nicholas morphed into what most now know as Santa Claus, the beneficent giver of gifts.
The legend of Santa Claus has made great fodder for the rise of commercialism, especially and initially in the West. All one has to do is look around oneself in most places in the Western world – and in many non-Western cities – and see how that has taken off. We find ourselves surrounded by trees and trimmings, shopping bags and wrapping paper, festive music and bright, blinking lights.
In this sense, Christmas is not just for Christians. It’s become a holiday for everybody, commercialized and conspicuous in its consumption. A time of giving and receiving gifts – for some, without any real understanding of why – when the biggest gift – of Christ – is frequently overlooked.
There's a greater reason
But I would argue there is a much greater reason why Christmas is not just for Christians. It is more subtle, but so much more significant. Simply put, it is because Jesus is for all people at all times, not just for the Jewish society into which he was born or the (eventual) “Christian” societies in which the message of Jesus took root.
Christmas is truly international and multicultural because Jesus is the most international and multicultural person in all of human history. His message, his hope, his very being spans centuries, cultures and continents.
Case in point: The top three countries where Christianity is growing the fastest right now are Nepal, China and the United Arab Emirates. This is followed by four Middle Eastern nations and then by Mongolia, Cambodia and Bahrain, to round out the top ten. These are not Western countries by any stretch of the imagination! (Data here, here, here, and here.)
Returning to our question
So, back to our question. Is Christmas only for Christians? I would answer a definitive NO!
But the source of that NO does not come from the commercialism all around us – experienced and often enjoyed by many who do not claim to believe in and follow Jesus.
Rather, that NO for me comes from the recognition of Jesus as truly global and timeless, one who transcends time, culture and space, and occupies the heart. So, I believe Jesus – and Christmas, in its true understanding – is for all, a welcome message for everyone everywhere. An extended hand of hope, of future.
Come, and behold.
If you celebrate Christmas with the birth of Christ in mind, how can you take it to a new level this year? And if you don't, how do you feel reading this?