Always Winter, Never Christmas


For the last 26 winters, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’s faun, Mr. Tummus, and his description of Narnia under the witch’s control: “Always winter, but never Christmas.” I resonate with the phrase, because in the country where I lived, the government practically eliminated Christmas over a hundred years ago. It managed this by pushing all the Christmas traditions, like decorating trees and giving gifts, to the New Year celebrations. January 7th was then celebrated as Christmas, but for many, it was mostly meaningless except to signal the ending of New Year’s vacation. Even to the believers, it was hard to celebrate a meaningful Christmas. 
In contrast, back in the US, Christmas merch started to appear in stores already at the end of the summer. Why such a marketing rush? The warring seasons made me chuckle: Halloween decorations, bigger turkey displays, and then Santa towering over them all. Amid all the Christmas merch, I also noticed the prominent placement of the Grinch. How did the ultimate critic of Christmas commercialism of 70 years ago end up metamorphosing into the epitome of Christmas merchandise? Maybe because the Grinch’s story about the angry miser transformed by Christmas magic instills hope for the isolated, rancorous, and vanquished. 
Contemplating the differences between these two countries' attitudes toward Christmas and New Years, I want to share a few insights.
In my previous country, though many of the Christmas traditions were transferred to New Years, the holiday lacks the anticipation and hope of Christmas. Most holiday preparation is done last minute. “New Year” trees are bought and decorated on the last days of the year, yet remain standing until the end of January or February (what a fire hazard these dried-brittle sticks become). The New Years meal consists mostly of traditional salads, meaning the last day of the year is spent slaving in the kitchen all day. Traditional foods are important, because a family should meet the New Year with a full table to ward off hunger in the upcoming year.
When the clock strikes twelve, champagne glasses ting, families gather, and fireworks go off intermittently all night (to the point of annoyance). An extremely popular song is Abba’s melancholy song, “Happy New Year” (if interested look it up on Youtube!). Even children need to “earn” their gifts from Father Frost and recite a poem or sing a song to get their present. Their winter holiday lacks the advent and hope of the Christmas promise of Emmanuel, God with us, the Messiah coming to earth. 
In the US, Christmas preparations come way too early, but during my first year back, I can’t help smiling as I walk the numerous commercialized holiday displays. My challenge to you is to rejoice in the frenzy and chaos of people celebrating the holiday by seeing it as an opportunity to share the real meaning of Christmas. Acts 17:23 inspires me as Paul, when walking around a Grecian Temple and seeing the statue of an unknown God says, “Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you…” Jesus often preached in the temples, where there was a natural opening to talk about spiritual matters. Christmas can provide a natural way to discuss the hope we have because of the Messiah coming to earth. Yes, the Christmas preparations come too early and it is too commercialized, but all of this is to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Consider the Grinch’s dog, Max. He looked to Christmas with boundless joy and anticipation. Despite the heavy load of the sleigh the Grinch made him carry and the negativity of the Grinch, Max believed in something better. A miracle beyond this simple dog’s imagination occurred. Max saw the love of Christmas change the Grinch’s heart. As believers, we know the true meaning of Christmas just does not make our hearts grow “bigger”, but the Savior of Christmas completely transforms us!  Even in the superficiality of our society’s celebrations, believers still have the opportunity to encourage people with Christmas’s true meaning.  
Returning to C.S. Lewis’s story, Lucy responds to Mr. Tummus’s words “Always winter, never Christmas,” by simply saying, “How dreadful.” Believe me, it is dreadful, so what a joy it is to celebrate Emmanuel this year! Merry Christmas, for unto us a child is born.

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