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21 December, 2014

NO MATTER HOW YOU CELEBRATE IT, CHRISTMAS IS A TIME OF GIVING

Christmas has become such an all-embracing, virtually secular event in western culture that people find it difficult to avoid, irrespective of religious upbringing.  The business sector, retailers in particular, have capitalized on the commercial potential of the festive holiday.

The secular version of Christmas features the evergreen tree (real or artificial) and outdoor lighting, winter holiday pageants at school, the arrival of Santa Claus, frantic shopping for gifts, opening presents...and turkey with all the trimmings. 

The birth of Jesus, the Christian Messiah.
The original sacred version and the basis for Christendom, reflects on the religious aspects of the occasion and features traditional carols, midnight candlelit church services and Sunday School presentations of the crèche scene depicting the birth of the Messiah in the person of a baby who would become Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Much has been made of the inherent conflict between these two traditions. Around the world, at this time of year, both Santa and Jesus can claim their multitude of followers.

Maclean`s magazine, assuming there exists some cosmic battle for the minds and hearts of people, recently -- and solemnly -- proclaimed Santa to be the winner. Do Santa and Jesus have to be mutually exclusive? I believe there is enough overlap to enable us to partake of both traditions.

The common theme which underlies each story is the centrality of “giving.” Santa brings gifts to the children and as family or friends we in turn exchange gifts with one another.

1881 illustration by Thomas Nast
who, along with Clement Clarke
Moore's poem "A Visit from
St. Nicholas", helped create the
 modern image of Santa Claus.

In Orthodox Christianity, God loved the world so much that he gave the gift of Jesus. In turn, Jesus taught his followers that loving God and one another is the greatest commandment of all. His definition of loving is to offer the gift of ourselves to one another -- our time, our care, our support -- as opportunities arise to do so.

It is true that we can give without loving. Sometimes we give out of guilt, habit or appeasement. In contrast, we can never truly love without giving. At Christmas, the best gifts are those carefully selected and given as a token or symbol of that love or caring.

For most of us, the two traditions merge together on Christmas Eve. Finally, all the preparations for the biggest celebration of the year are in place. Now, secular or sacred, we can truly relax. A sense of wonder, hope, joy and peace slowly settles in. We might even feel an urge to lift our voices in agreement with a familiar Yuletide refrain...

Silent night, Holy night ... All is calm, all is bright.

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