Jeff is 21-years old, and he is Chinese-American. He was born and raised here in the USA by parents who immigrated from Taiwan. His parents, from what I gathered in our conversations, are still culturally very Chinese. Prior to college, Jeff and his siblings attended Chinese school each Saturday in addition to regular public school in the San Francisco bay area, where he grew up.
I enjoy talking with Jeff, because he sees life here in the USA differently from me. Even though he grew up here in the same country, many of the cultural touchstones and icons that are familiar to me and most of my demographic are unfamiliar to Jeff. Movies and sports that I take for granted as a part of my cultural background have very little significance to Jeff. They just haven't been part of his life growing up.
Last night my wife and I celebrated Elizabeth's 22nd birthday. We met Jeff and Elizabeth for dinner at Black Angus and had an excellent meal together. Afterwards, back at the house for a few minutes before the kids went to a movie, Jeff and I got to talking about Christmas traditions.
I asked him if he was going home for Christmas break, and he is. I asked him if his family celebrated Christmas. He thought for a moment, then said "no, not really."
Jeff went on to say that his family does recognize Christmas, its just not a big deal in his household. Much the same as Thanksgiving, Labor Day, etc. The dates are on the calendar, and they recognize the dates when they roll around, but not the way most American's do. There's no Christmas tree, and no avalanche of presents, but there is a sense of good will and joy they celebrate with the rest of society.
I asked what he knew about holiday traditions in China, and if Christmas was celebrated there. Again, he said not the way we do here in the USA, but yes, it is a celebrated thing. We talked for a while longer, about different cultures (what little we actually knew, but it was fun), and then Jeff said something I found very interesting.
He said his parents taught him while growing up, that it was more important to give thanks every day than it was to give thanks at the holidays. He said that was why the holidays weren't so prominent growing up, because he was taught to give thanks for food, clothing, shelter, etc..... every day. The Thanksgiving holiday was nice and all, but his parents impressed on him the importance of being thankful all the time for all that he has.
I thought that was a wonderful thing, and I told Jeff I completely agreed with his parents.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my holiday traditions, because they are a part of my American heritage. I like turkey and pie and eggnog and Christmas trees. They are part of my American-cultural experience.
But they are only that: American-cultural experiences.
Let's be honest. The American celebration of Christmas really has very little to do with Christ.
Decorated trees in our homes have little to do with the celebration of Jesus' birth.
Overspending and stressing on what gifts we should give to people who already have way too much stuff is not a celebration of Jesus' love.
Eating ourselves sick at Christmas parties has nothing to do with following Jesus.
Santa Clause, reindeer, elves, talking snowmen, Grinches, or Who's in Whoville do not innately point to the birth of Jesus, The True King, or to anything having to do with Jesus at all.
Christmas in America - as most Americans celebrate it or envision it- is a cultural feast of over-indulgence, over-spending, unnecessary extravagance, and attempts to buy the love of friends and relatives, giving them gifts at the holidays in hopes of obfuscating the fact that we've ignored them most of the rest of the year.
It's a season of mostly fake smiles, feigned joy, and false hope, wrapped up in too much food, too much spending, and too much stress.
All the while those who have little to nothing to spend or eat, watch the charade and parade pass by, not even getting to join in on the facade of American Christmas Joy.
(OK, I admit that was a somewhat harsh and sarcastic critique of the American Christmas experience, but truthfully, if you think I'm really that far off base, tell me. I'm betting more of you would agree with than disagree.)
Mind you, there is nothing inherently wrong with Christmas trees, gifts, food, and celebrating with family. Those are all good things. They can be lots of fun.
We must realize and remember, though, that if we don't make a conscious effort to infuse Christ into these cultural proceedings, and if we don't celebrate in ways that honor God in all things, and if we forget that Jesus is not just 'The Reason for the Season', but that he is the reason for everything.....
.....then all of the trappings of Christmas are just that - trappings without meaning. They become meaningless noise and shadows drowning out the love of Christ during a season in which that love should be sung with the clearest of notes, and shown with the brightest of lights.
1st Corinthians 13:3 says,
"If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn't love others, I would have gained nothing."
I agree with Jeff and his parents: we should be celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas, in our hearts, every day of the year.
I say this especially to my brothers and sisters in Christ - this should be our heart's cry every day! Giving thanks to God for His blessings, each and every day, should be a top priority!
Ephesians 5:15-20 reads,
"So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."Philippians 4:4-7 reads,
"Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."Are we thankful and rejoicing in God's wonderful grace and mercy all year long? Or do we save our best for the Holidays, and then allow it to get lost in the cacophony of culture?
If so, why? Doesn't God give His best everyday?
God teaches me lessons everyday, in many ways, and not always just from The Bible. Keep your eyes open and see what God is teaching you today. You might be surprised where the next lesson comes from!