Don’t let the Christ in Christmas fool you . . . this is a season to celebrate humanity, not divinity.
Admittedly, the narratives might be pulled from religious sources, but the “true meaning” of Christmas is not, in fact, a general consensus that a messiah showed up. It’s about celebrating life, the resilience of the human spirit, and the human capacity to love. That’s not a message that requires commitment to a singular omnipotent deity with something of a split personality disorder; that’s something intimately human. If anything, Christmas can be more meaningful as it slides away from the Son-of-God birth narrative, not less.
Consider the figure of Santa Claus: sure, on the one hand that dude’s 100 per cent a moral enforcer, meant to teach children the right way to live, and that living the right way is rewarded. But the jolly old soul is also a metaphor for love, in particular the kind of familial love that drives parents/guardians to scrimp and save to bring their child some happiness, or, say, to get married and look after a child neither of them really consented to having. (Looking at you, Joseph and Mary.) And when you think of all the best things about Christmas, none of them are the material things themselves. Yes, the food is good, yes, the toys are fun, yes, the booze is amazing, but the best things are actually the humans experiencing those things.
My favourite recent Christmas memories aren’t the things, they’re the feelings: the way my older brother laughed for literal hours (no, literally, like even during Christmas dinner) after getting a satirical picture book which cost all of five bucks as a stocking stuffer; the way my mom’s face lit up to see her IKEA armchair under the tree, a little space all her own after years of sacrificing every stick of furniture, and everything in general really, to her now-grown-up kids; the way I get a warm glowy feeling whenever my red leather gloves, a gift from “Santa,” keep my hands warm when I’m away from home in the Victoria damp. Real Christmas gifts aren’t things; Christmas gifts are one human showing another, “This is what I know of you, this is what you are to me, this is what you mean to me, this is what I know will bring you joy.” And sure, that’s a message Christianity endorses, but hardly one it invented. How could anyone own the spirit of Christmas?
And this concept isn’t just familial, either. It isn’t limited to those we know and love best, but can apply to the whole human race. In embracing our own humanity, we acknowledge it in others, too. We recognize the value of human beings we spend the rest of the year ignoring. And I find it infinitely preferable to believe that we do so not in recognition of a God, or a representative of that God on Earth, but because we choose to do so as human beings. We choose to make this world a better place here and now, because we want it to be better, and we know we can do that. Why we forget that the rest of the year is the real question.
Because that’s really what Christmas is about: even in the dead, cold, devastating winter, humans endure. They continue to love, and to express love freely. Christmas is a time to connect with the best aspects of human existence, and to reaffirm the ability of humanity to make the world in which we exist a better place, nature and forces of the world be damned. These eternal values are what really matter, and the Christian story simply underscores them.