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A Solution to the Christmas Clash

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2)


I never realized how much I would struggle with Christmas in the tropics.


Well, bordering on subtropical, actually. That means we have hot, humid weather from May to October, which gives way to gloriously warm, dry days from November through April. Overall, we experience 80% sunshine year round. Yes, that’s why so many northerners flee south for the winter. They are sad people (Seasonal Affective Disorder) looking for a heavy dose of vitamin D.


For me, living in the tropics is truly one step below what I imagine heaven to be like.


But it really throws me off around Christmas time. My mind crashes when I see northernisms superimposed over tropic-isms. You know, an inflatable Santa bedecked in sub-zero weather gear when the temp is peaking at 85o, and people are basking in swimwear at the pool. Or Christmas displays with snow-laden pine trees and snowmen (or snowwomen or snow people or snow non-specific gender-neutral beings) nestled amidst palm trees.


I can feel the images colliding in my head.


I lived in Minnesota for decades. I grew up in tuchus-freezing conditions where Christmas was irrevocably associated with all that northern snow and ice. For the last two years, when Christmas arrived, those deeply ingrained memories clashed with the reality my eyes saw. After two years, I’m still trying to reconcile the contradiction.


But the need to separate conflicting Christmas tundra and tropic images goes deeper than that.


When I was a kid, and by that I mean pre to early elementary school, Christmas consisted of a bejeweled balsam or scotch pine tree (balsam always smelled best!), TV shows like A Charlie Brown Christmas, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty The Snow Man, the nummy Norwegian almond delight we called kringler, and the best part – gifts!


Sure, Jesus was part of it, but almost as an aside. My parents would read the story of Jesus’ birth to us on Christmas Eve, but our anticipation of opening presents soon overshadowed the wonder of His birth. We had to get to bed early, or Santa wouldn’t come!


Sadly, the arrival of the King of Kings was eclipsed by the King of Gifts, and I quickly lost Jesus in the trappings and wrappings of the Season.


As I matured into my teen years, served as an acolyte in my Lutheran church congregation (that’s “altar boy” to youse Catholics), and gave my life to Jesus as a High School junior, I realized that I was struggling with the clash of two ideas every Christmas – sacred and secular – and ne’er the twain met. In fact, they’ve grown farther and farther apart the more I’ve aged, err, matured.


Secular Christmas starts around October 1. Sacred Christmas starts when? December 24, for the most part, depending on which radio station you tune in. Or if you attend church services regularly, sacred Christmas starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving with Advent on the church calendar.


The complete break happened last year in 2022.


After hearing Paul McCartney’s banal Wonderful Christmastime for the umpteenth irritating time, it became so painfully clear that we celebrate two holidays at this time of year.


Christmas and Giftmas.


Christmas celebrates our Heavenly Father’s supreme gift to us – Jesus – by whom we can enjoy our relationship with our Father and rejoin His family forever. Hallelujah!


Giftmas is secularized Christmas. To secularize means to “separate from religious or spiritual connection or influences; make worldly or unspiritual” ( Giftmas is Christmas rinsed of any spiritual influence.


In other words, Giftmas celebrates the Season without the Son.


Ouch. That was it. That was the void between what I had learned as a child and what I experienced as a maturing young adult.


I can’t reconcile the two “holidays” into one no matter how hard I try. Sacred and secular don’t mix, no matter how hard nostalgia and tradition tries to cement them together.


So, I quit trying to merge them.


Instead, I acknowledge them separately, putting my focus on Christmas.


That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the nostalgia and traditions of Giftmas. I do. I like some secular Giftmas music, the lights, the kringler (!), and the old TV shows. I participate with family and friends as they celebrate the Giftmas season. But I purposefully focus on the proverbial “Reason for the Season.”


Know what? That’s biblical, for Paul tells us to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2)


Since I’ve started doing that in earnest, Christmas has become a much more intimate, wonderful, and peaceful time.


I’ve separated myself from most of the non-stop secular Giftmas music in favor of sacred Christmas music that focuses on Jesus’ birth with its deep spiritual meaning and implications. Our interior and exterior decorations spotlight the spiritual meaning of Christmas, with manger scenes abounding. As for the gift-giving tradition, Jeanne and I work to give meaningful gifts as expressions of our love for the recipient after the manner of our Father’s loving and gracious Gift to us.


And I make loads of kringler just because people love to snarf it down, and it makes me happy to bless others, which is a Bible thing, right?


Having a Florida Christmas still throws me off because of the persistent nostalgia, memories, and childhood associations, which aren’t bad unless they overshadow the immense spiritual aspect of Jesus’ birth. And while Florida Christmas is still odd to me, it clarifies the difference between Christmas and Giftmas and focuses me on the Lord.


I have no balsam or scotch pine trees to decorate, no snow to shovel, no fireplace from which to hang stockings, no iced-over lakes upon which to skate, and no need for ugly Christmas sweaters. Even if it does get cold (and by that, I mean cool), I haven’t acclimated that much. Yet.


Truth be told, celebrating Christmas in the tropics makes the Nativity story more vivid.


Having visited Israel a few times, I know the landscape and the weather during the spring and fall times when Jesus most likely entered the human race. There are palms around Bethlehem, and the weather, while cool in the evenings, is far from the “bleak midwinter/frosty wind made moan/ snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,” we hear sung by Christmas choirs. Blessedly, celebrating Christmas in the tropics has made the reality of Jesus’ birth more real and natural.


You get the point.


Speaking of A Charlie Brown Christmas, we see the Giftmas/Christmas contrast vividly. When describing Christmas to Schroeder, Lucy tells what she likes about it by saying, “No, no. You don’t get it at all. I mean ‘Jingle Bells.’ You know, Santa Claus, and ho-ho-ho, and mistletoe… and presents to pretty girls…”. When Schroeder plays a cheesy version of “Jingle Bells,” Lucy yells, “THAT’S IT!”


No, it’s not.


That’s Giftmas.


Ironically, Lucy’s brother, Linus, takes center stage at the Christmas play rehearsal and shares the account of Jesus’ birth right out of scripture. (Would that get by the cancel-culture censors today, I wonder?)


Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. [moves toward the center of the stage]


Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please. [a spotlight shines on Linus]


Linus Van Pelt: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not:’” [Linus drops his security blanket on purpose]


Linus Van Pelt: “‘For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”


Linus Van Pelt: [Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown] That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.


Yes. Yes, it is. That’s Christmas. That’s setting our minds “on things above, not on earthly things.”


This verse also applies to the rest of the year as well. The bells and smells of Giftmas soon begin to fade on December 26 and rapidly turn stale by New Year’s Eve. The anticipation of what a wrapped package may hold quickly gives way to the anticipation of what the new year holds. We begin to focus on what this earthly world will bring us. But do we lose focus on what we should bring to the Lord in the new year?


“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”


As we journey between Christmas and Giftmas, let your thoughts ascend to the things above and not let the earthly things keep us from celebrating the real Reason for the Season. Let’s focus on the One from above who entered the earthly realm as God in a human body so that we could reenter the heavenly realm and our eternal family.


No, I’m not being a Grinch. I will continue to cherish my memories and traditions – and make loads of kringler! I’ll enjoy it even more since I’m not feeling the Christmas clash I used to. And I’ll join the heavenly host in their song of praise, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”


That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Shining the Light of God’s Truth on the Road Ahead


Pastor Jay Christianson

The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts


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