December 23, 2015
The True Meaning of Christmas: It’s Love and Compassion
by Emmanuel Joseph
The Malaysian Insider
The spindly pitiful two-foot Christmas tree that has become a cultural darling was Schulz’s way of focusing readers on the important things in life, in this case bringing joy to the seasonally depressed and perennial underdog Charlie Brown in the 1965 animated TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Ridiculed in the story for picking such a puny specimen for the annual Christmas play, instead of the “big shiny aluminum tree” he was dispatched to find, Charlie vowed to make his sad-sack tree beautiful, to pretty it up with decorations and imbue it with glory.
To Charlie, the droopy little tree with the falling needles was about hope, about Christmas being not what you have, or how grand it is, or how many gifts you get, but about believing in oneself, and the power of friendship…
That tree is a signal, with or without religious embodiment, that it’s time to both take stock and reflect, to be grateful for all that we have and to have hope for those who have none.
It’s Christmas season again! The most magical time of the year. Peace and goodwill and joy to the world. Well, most of the world, at least.
Joining the ranks of Somalia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, our neighbour Brunei has become the latest country to ban public Christmas celebrations, becoming both the first ASEAN and the first Commonwealth country to do so.
That the move comes from a shariah-governed nation should come as no surprise.It is, after all to reflect the modest, puritanical form of religious rule that comes with theocratic regime.
What’s ironic, however, perhaps, is this new-found rigid religiosity, juxtaposed against what is probably the most regal of Royal Households with the lifestyle to match. The fear is that Christmas would corrupt Muslims and lead to the corrosion of Islamic values. We see a much milder form of apprehension even in our own country.
This fear isn’t exclusive to Muslim countries either – in India, religious organisations that subscribe to Hindutva ideology and in Buddhist majority Bhutan, the same argument is applied, albeit for Hindus and Buddhists, respectively.
The first anti-Christmas celebration stance, however, came from Christians themselves- the second half of the 16th century saw Christmas becoming a controversial bone of contention between the traditional Catholics with the newer Protestant churches which viewed the celebrations as wasteful, excessive, indulgent and even un-Christian.
This opinion, to varying degrees, though mostly toned down, is still very much held today by many Christian groups.They contend that the over-commercialisation and secularisation of Christmas dilutes the true meaning of Christmas – the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ.
The fear is that over-celebrating Christmas leads to corruption of Christianity and Christian values. And on the other end of the spectrum comes the non-religious argument against Christmas.
Giant stores in the West, particularly in America, have steadily, over the years, toned down the religious theme of Christmas, opting instead to make it an almost entirely secular celebration for commercial reasons.
In some state and county authorities, humanist and atheist organisations have aggressively challenged the use of public funds to erect nativity scenes and similar Christian themed paraphernalia, citing the separation of church and state and arguing that such displays were, in fact, a form of propagation of religion, and therefore a misuse of public funds.
It is funny how one celebration can solicit so many divergent public views.The truth is, much to the dissatisfaction of religious Christians, Christmas is as much secular as it is religious.
Much like New Year’s or Halloween, it has left its humble beginnings as a religious practice to spread out universally, in the process, being enriched by various local customs and traditions from many countries, fuelled by commercial supply and demand, interwoven with myths and legends, some exaggerated history, others from fantastical tales, yet others, completely artificial fantasy made up to sell toys and candy, yet every one of them entertaining and colourful. In other words, Christians no longer exclusively “own” Christmas, it has become a piece of global culture.
As such to merely look at it through a strictly religious lens may not do justice to it. Neither would labelling it a Western celebration (Jesus and St Nicholas were both Asian.)And then there is this hunt for the elusive “true” meaning of Christmas, a hunt that has gone on for as long there have been Christmas tales and movies.
Personally, I do not think there is really one “true” meaning to Christmas as there is one “true” meaning to Deepavali or Chinese New Year. There are, however, religious grounds of Christmas, that in a manger in Bethlehem, 2000 years ago, a great teacher, healer, prophet and saviour was born.
There are positive social values associated with Christmas – that it is a time for family, loved ones, a time for giving and receiving, of forgiving and being forgiven, of sharing and caring. There are, however, completely merry tidings that comes with Christmas, that it is gifts, and eating and drinking and singing and partying.
And there is nothing wrong with any of those meanings. Because at the heart of it all, is what creates, empowers and drives whichever or all meanings that a person chooses to embrace as what Christmas is. And that is love.
While we are still permitted to, wishing you and your loved ones, a love filled and blessed Christmas!