To Christmas, With Love

It can be hard to find meaning as we find ourselves trapped behind our screens. Here’s how we bring that Christmas spirit back.

Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve! I don’t know about you all, but it has to be my favorite time of year. Even with everything going on, I’ve been trying to enjoy the little things: making peppermint hot chocolate for my family, counting down the days with advent calendars, learning from my mother and grandmother how to make cozonac (Romanian sweet bread with poppy seed fillings) – it’s not Christmas otherwise!

It also fills me with joy to see the Christmas spirit around – whether in buying gifts for loved ones, or driving around to see the string lights that people put up. On the other hand, I’ve been disappointed to see fewer houses each year choose to decorate for the holidays. I’m not sure if parents are less motivated to decorate as their kids grow older, if more people are tired of the pandemic and its accompanying panic porn, or if they value Christmas less. Maybe it’s a combination, and all three of those are incredibly sad to see.

I’ve often heard people complain about the increasingly consumerist view of Christmas in America, with stores selling Christmas decorations before Halloween to “get ahead” as the main example, or empty posts that many people and companies make on social media as an attempt to get likes or engagement with their content.

While that could be true, I think they’re missing the point. Of course, companies’ marketing departments and any content creator will take advantage of the holidays and any trend. Anyone who has ever had to sell anything, especially in an increasingly Internet-dependent age, will tell you that (myself included!) – otherwise, we can’t even pretend to be relevant.

On the other hand, I can agree that people have still been forgetting about the true value of Christmas.

You probably rolled your eyes at that last sentence. Everyone’s heard about the “true value of Christmas” ad nauseam, probably to the point where we tune it out because it sounds corny at this point.

But even though we’ve heard it so much, what can we really say it is? Giving to others? Being nice to a stranger on the street? Spending time with family?

Of course! But it’s far easier said than done.

We can say we give to other people, but how intentional and thoughtful are we in doing so? Do we give a few donations for tax breaks? Do we gift our friends and family with a generic gift card (or a present that we actually would have wanted for ourselves)?

We can say that we’re kind to strangers, but how often have we really put our phones down and given a random compliment or warm smile to the grocery store cashier?

We can say we’ve spent time with our family, but how much of that time is spent actually sitting around on our phones and computers?

See what I mean?

I will admit, I am no exception to any of these. You may think, “then what the heck are you doing about this? Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?”

The short answer: yes. These realizations are what convinced me to start deleting the social media apps off my phone that kept me hooked. For some, I even went so far as to delete my account – I still find myself checking my phone when I feel even a hint of boredom, and that’s something I want to continue working on.

While there may be a hole that social media left in me, I’ve used this period to reflect more on my values and shortcomings, and how I can use those to brainstorm ways to become a better Christian, and as a result, a better person.

Christmas, as we know, is a time to celebrate Christ’s Nativity, and also to recognize what it really meant to us. The most-quoted verse in the Bible is John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The Greeks have a word for this sort of love: agape (αγάπη), or the unconditional love that God has for us. We didn’t have Him come into this world to hang out, affirm our whims, or enable whatever we think makes us feel good, but to love us by correcting us where we go wrong.

We aren’t always good or gracious in receiving it, but we’re lucky to have that kind of unconditional love, where He gives us the space and opportunity for forgiveness and doing better in the future. It’s why Orthodox Christians, among those of other denominations, place such a huge emphasis on regular confessions. Admitting where we went wrong is only the first step in repentance – not just saying you’re sorry, but actively making a change in our ways to be closer to God, and striving to be the better version of ourselves that He asks for, as a result.

We didn’t have Him come into this world to hang out, affirm our whims, or enable whatever we think makes us feel good, but to love us by correcting us where we go wrong.

In that spirit, let’s take this holiday season as an opportunity to get an honest look at how we’ve been falling short. Have we paid enough attention to how our loved ones are really doing? Have we been afraid to reach out to that person we haven’t spoken to in a while? Have we neglected those we have limited time with, in favor of whatever funny thing we see on our phones? Have we used Netflix and YouTube videos to distract us from taking an honest look at ourselves, afraid of what we might find?

Let’s find enough strength to take that honest look and humble ourselves. Let’s use this season to appreciate those around us while we have them. Let’s take that first step in bettering ourselves for their sake. In that way, we can do our best to try to use God’s love as our strength, and spread the Christmas spirit without relying on what we see in our screens and stores.

What does Christmas mean to you? What are some fun traditions that you’d like to start up again with your family? Or even, what aspects of yourself can you admit you need to work on? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


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