This is my reflection on Christmas which I delivered at the church service yesterday: 


  I am sure that none of you were surprized that I wished you a Merry Christmas.  We are in the middle of the season of  Christmas in the church year, celebrating the first Sunday after Christmas. However, many people who are unfamiliar with this season of Christmas in the church year would be surprized and perhaps puzzled that we were doing so.  They might look on such a greeting as something given by someone who has been out of touch for the past week – perhaps being a week late in giving such a greeting.


We are living in a time in which there are two types of Christmases – well, there are probably many, but I want to talk about the two approaches to celebrating Christmas in our culture.  We have the religious celebration which we are taking part in today.  The other celebration of Christmas is what I call the secular Christmas.  This Christmas has many ways of identifying it which I am sure you are familiar with.  The celebration of the secular Christmas begins in the fall.  It is marked by Christmas carols being played in malls and stores and even in social media.  We have adds featuring that saint of the secular Christmas, Santa Claus, encouraging us to buy, buy, buy the perfect gift for our loved ones.  It is, in effect, a celebration of materialism.  The secular Christmas is about spending money which we can’t really afford to give gifts, gifts, gifts in the spirit of that Christmas.    Santa Claus is, as I say, the saint of this Christmas – but it is a secular saint.  Now, this saint is based on a true saint – St. Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students in various cities and countries around Europe.


His reputation evolved among the pious, as was common for early Christian saints, and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the modern model of Santa Claus.  However, our modern image of Santa Claus – that jolly, fat man in a red fur lined suite, smoking a pipe is, appropriately, based more on a commercial – a commercial for the coca cola company.  After all, who wouldn’t want a nice cold coke after a hectic day of buying presents for loved ones and friends and even our bosses.  There is some magic connected with Santa Claus.  He is able to appear in many places at once – indeed in countless department stores and other such places where the focus is on buying things.  He appears in these venues after the many parades in his honour in countless cities and towns.  These are the official start of the secular Christmas season and they occur even before the beginning of Advent in the sacred calendar. 


Another symbol of the secular Christmas is the Christmas Tree.  Now this symbol is shared with the sacred Christmas.  But you can tell the difference because it often appears early in conjunction with the beginning of the secular Christmas and often you can see them put out for collection of Boxing Day.  Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, is usually credited with having introduced the Christmas tree into England in 1840. However, it was actually 'good Queen Charlotte', the German wife of George III, who set up the first known tree at Queen's Lodge, Windsor, in December 1800. 


So, what about the other Christmas – the sacred one?  What are the elements that make up this Christmas and make it different from the secular one?

If you are a purist and want to observe a traditional holy Christmas there are a number of things you should and shouldn’t do. 


This Christmas actually begins on Christmas Eve – the evening of December 24th.  You don’t begin singing Christmas Carols until Christmas Eve to welcome the birth of the Christ Child.  Christmas trees shouldn’t actually be in place and decorated before that.  The Christ Child and not Santa Claus is the centre and focus of this Christmas.  Rather than a frenzy of gift buying, we have the season of Advent in which we prepare for the birth of the Christ Child on Christmas Day – it is the mass of Christ – the birth of Christ. 


The sacred Christmas lasts for – can you guess – twelve days.  From Christmas Day until Epiphany with the arrival of the Wise Men.  Epiphany has its own season in the church year.  Many people - even those who celebrate only the secular Christmas, are familiar with the twelve days of Christmas because of the playful carol by that name.   Today is the seventh day of Christmas – so you could be giving your true love – any guesses?  You can give them seven swans a swimming.  (sing the song back to the first day). 


Now, a gift of seven swans and many of the other gifts in that song are completely impractical.  I certainly don’t know what I would do with seven swans if my true love Lorna gave them to me.  I might appreciate five gold rings but what could I do with ten lords a leaping or eight maids a milking – I don’t own even one cow.  


 As with the song, trying to strictly follow a sacred Christmas is impractical and unrealistic and I am not suggesting that you try to do it.  As much as I appreciate the celebration of the sacred Christmas, I certainly embrace some things of the secular one.  I enjoy singing carols and enjoyed the service of Lessons and Carols we had here two weeks ago. 

I am glad to exchange gifts with Lorna on Christmas morning and many of the other things that we Christians share with the secular Christmas.  I believe that we should enjoy all of Christmas – both Christmases - but in doing so we should not lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of the Christ Child – Jesus Christ was born – on Christmas Day - which historically was not December 25th -but Christians have always been incorporating non-Chirstian times and symbols in our celebration.  Let us continue to do that but not forget the reason for the season – to use a cliché.  Love came down at Christmas and we Christians are called to share that love – the Love of Jesus Christ with the world.  Amen  


Happy New Year