Have you ever wondered just what “Bah humbug” means? I did, and finally decided to find out! All I knew was that’s how Scrooge (a character from Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol), described Christmas. But what did he mean by it?
I’d always thought of a humbug as a sour puss, kill joy, or wet blanket. And certainly Ebenezer Scrooge fits that bill perfectly. But humbug is an interesting term, meaning “fraud, hoax, rubbish, nonsense, or something that is intended to deceive”. It also has implications of “unjustified publicity and spectacle”. Put simply, a humbug is an imposter.
So it seems that perhaps Scrooge (and perhaps Charles Dickens?) was actually making a much harder indictment against Christmas. Which is probably why anyone not entering fully into the Christmas spirit has ever after been termed a ‘Scrooge’.
Well then, I guess Mario and I qualify as full-fledged Scrooges.
And we’re OK with that. Because you see, we’ve decided that Scrooge was basically right. But it’s not that we don’t love Christmas. We do. No other day, except Easter, fills us with such awe, peace, and joy.
Because Christmas (as it’s called) is Immanuel. God with us. The greatest of all miracles.
But modern-day Christmas, with all its commercial aspects, it seems to me often robs Christmas (or Christ Mass), which means Christ celebration, of its glory and honor.
I know this will be an unpopular post. But I don’t blog for popularity, anyway. (And I have, in fact, debated several years over writing it.) Partly because I don’t want others to see us as Scrooges. But mostly because we don’t want to come across as know-it-alls trying to tell others how to live.
And also because we DO celebrate Christmas. But in our own quiet, non-traditional way.
Christmas to us means taking time to reflect.
To sit in awe, not at the feet of a Christmas tree, but at the thought of the God-became-man miracle.
It means sharing the joy of this miracle around the table. Both with family and friends. But also with others who have not yet really seen the truth of this miracle.
And it means asking, with open hearts and minds, “What would Christ think of our Christmas?
And how would he celebrate his own holiday, were he to return and walk among us? It wasn’t until we really considered these things that our Christmas changed. The Lord had already started us down the path of trying to see how many of our Christian practices we did more for ourselves than for him.
Things like going to church to see what we could get out of it. Having worship that appealed to us. Praying mostly because we needed something. And recognizing God’s sovereignty only when things went according to our plan.
To put it simply, God had to show us how many times we had placed ourselves, our wants, needs, and ideas on the throne — in place of him.
This didn’t happen overnight, and is still a work in progress. And will always be such. Our narcissistic nature is a sly fox, always sneaking in.
And then, we started looking at Christmas. And seeing how many justifications we had used to support our Christmas celebrations.
I’m not talking about examining the pagan origins of Christmas. (Although it is eye-opening.) Particularly what the Puritans and early church fathers, like St. John Chrysostom, thought of it. You’ll find some good food for thought.
In fact, reformist-minded Protestants considered it little better than paganism. An attitude carried over to the New World, where for about 25 years, Christmas celebrations were illegal. Quite likely because back in those days Christmas was often celebrated in a rowdy, bawdy fashion. (How much has it really changed?)
But no, we don’t want to ban Christmas celebrations! Because we celebrate it too! It’s just our way of looking at it that’s changed. Especially after realizing how many justifications we had used in trying to make every aspect of the celebrations “truly Christian.”
Like with our gift-giving.
“We give each other gifts,” we say, “because the wise men took gifts to Christ.” But isn’t that illogical? Logically, doesn’t it make more sense to follow their example by doing the same thing? They gifted, not one another, but One greater than they.
“But I want to give gifts,” you say. You like doing it? Then by all means, do so. But please, can we dispense with trying to spiritualize it? Especially considering the wise men visited the Christ child around two years after his birth!
We also give gifts, it’s just that we save them for children’s birthdays. Or finding ways to meet real needs throughout the year. We’d rather do that than buy unneeded stuff that will probably end up in thrift shops or garage sales.
Which most of us know came from St. Nicholas who, by the time of the Renaissance, had become the most popular saint in Europe. And we have much to learn from the example of this man’s good deeds. But that doesn’t mean our modern-day Santa Clause is like Christ, as some try to claim. In fact, the correlations between Santa Clause and Jesus Christ present more the figure of a false god.
The Myth of the Christmas Tree.
Some portray the Christmas tree as a symbol of the Tree of Life. Others say that the evergreen points to the everlasting life we have in Christ, including symbolism of the lights, the ornaments, and practically every other aspect of the Christmas tree.
Christmas trees are pretty, no doubt about it. But it sadly seems to us that they’ve taken center stage at our Christmas celebrations. We’ve got to have them picture perfect, with heaps of presents below.
So that’s why we’re asking: What would Christ do at his own celebration? What would take center stage for him?
I think this is my favorite one. In an effort to turn even candy into a religious symbol, we’ve got religious fairy tales about this innocent mint-flavored stick. One of which tells that a man in India invented it, wanting to use the red and white striped candy as symbols for the virgin birth and Christ’s blood shed for us.
Can this be for real? If we like candy canes, can’t we just enjoy them? Why the need to make them religious? I for one, would certainly enjoy them — if we could get them over here. But since we can’t, I’ll just enjoy our dried figs instead. Not that they have any particular religious meaning…
Christmas. The beauty and depth of its meaning. That’s what we try to center our Christmas celebrations around.
But perhaps you’re wondering just what kill-joy Scrooges like us do at Christmastime?
Our decorations are simple. We light a few candles. Because after all, they symbolize the Light of the World. No, I’m kidding. We just like them, and the homey atmosphere they create.
The celebration starts on Christmas Eve. With hot spiced wine, chestnuts, cheese, nuts, and fruit. And better yet, if we can roast the chestnuts over a real fire. With a Bible reading of the real Christmas story, by Matthew and Luke.
And we have three old Christmas cards (from my mom) that we set out. One of the manger scene. One of the wise men (even though they really have nothing to do with Christmas). But because the leading wise man has his arm raised, finger pointed toward their goal: to find and worship the King. And one with a poem: What Christmas Means to God.
We have a special meal, just because joy shared is joy doubled. And when possible, we invite those who would otherwise have no place to go.
Simple, or too simple? I suppose that depends on your point of view.
But it’s brought us peace of mind and heart. Freedom from the rushing, the stress, and the commercialism.
And freedom from the burden of trying to find those perfect gifts. Burdensome, because it’s hard to buy for people (like us) who have everything, and too much of it.
So yes, you might say that ours is a Bah, Humbug Christmas. But if a humbug is a fraud or imposter, we tend to think it’s really the other way around.
Do people always understand?
No, but those that know us do. And those who truly know us well know that while we may not give Christmas gifts, are only too happy to show up with needed bags of groceries. Or to meet any real need, when it’s within our power to do so. Or sometimes special little gifts, because, well just because!
Is it possible that our “Merry Christmas” is really nothing but an imposter? Come to take the place of God’s gift: Immanuel, God with us?
So we don’t wish you a Merry Christmas. But a thoughtful celebration of Immanuel? With all our hearts!