Keeping Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us!

Can you picture it?

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap…

(A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement Clarke Moore)

How Are You Surviving Winter?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day of the year will be December 21st. That means by midwinter, daylight is at a premium. Western Pennsylvania folks are well acquainted with these winter doldrums. In this region, it is normal to not see much of the sun, as a grey, cold blanket of clouds rules the sky from October to March. However, this intensifies during the lack of sunlight due to shorter days.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or “Winter Blues” is now at its peak for those who struggle emotionally. Many grapple this time of year with anxious distress, constantly feeling keyed up, restless or tense. Certainly, feeling down in the dumps or just having a sense of dread can also be a central feature for some this time of year. Sleep is disrupted, fatigue sets in, and appetite changes lead to significant weight gain. Substance abuse increases for those trying to avoid pain. Many families are affected by one or more people in their home that are not quite themselves, struggling with apathy, or a loss of interest which tempts them to isolate from others. These trends can affect us at any age.

The Origins of Christmas

Keeping Christmas is a core function of the family that builds relationships and promotes spiritual growth. Often we become stuck, as Christmas becomes another attempt to feel better. In fact, Christmastime has always been a kind of struggle between a secular and sacred celebration. From its very beginnings, Christmas was a fusion of pre-existing winter festivals and Christian themes. Secular festivals that coincide with harvest time and celebration of lights during the midwinter period pre-existed sacred celebrations. Christian leaders converted these secular festivals into effective opportunities to focus on Jesus Christ and Christian virtues.

Although historical accounts vary, it is estimated that Epiphany, a day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate, was first initiated by early Christians in the 300’s. Throughout the twentieth century a widely accepted theory was that eastern Christians developed an Epiphany celebration to compete with an Egyptian winter solstice on January 6.

Epiphany celebrates miraculous events that give us the revelation of Jesus Christ. Epiphany can include celebrations of Jesus’s baptism, certain miracles (like Jesus feeding the five thousand), His birth, and the appearance of the wise men. The Christmas celebration was officially recognized and celebrated sometime after Epiphany became a tradition. In 567, the Council of Tours proclaimed the period of Christmas to Epiphany, a sacred celebration of the birth and revelation of Jesus. Thus, the twelve days of Christmas officially began, and the English eventually called this Christmastide.

The Christmas Challenge

Since this time, keeping Christmas has always been a challenge. There has always been a natural pull during this time of year that urges us to focus on feelings. It is a place where we get stuck emotionally and spiritually. As noted above, for many, situations trigger emotions at the heart level that elevate anxiety, depression, and all kinds of dysfunctional habits. From children to adults, this struggle is real. We get stuck in just wanting to feel better. Unfortunately, feeling better is only temporary. Therefore we can get addicted to avoiding the real issues of the heart and move to trying to feel better. This is where disorder and dysfunction starts to become chronic.

Christmas can be a time of healing. Focusing on the sacred celebration of Christmas keeps us centered and working on our heart level needs. This season naturally stirs up past trauma and difficult emotions. The goal is to embrace these events to explore what is occurring at our spiritual core. What is the heart level need that is being expressed? Identifying and working on these dynamics lead to permanent growth and healing.

Finding the Heart of Christmas

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

(John 1: 1 – 5)


Keeping Christmas is all about substituting attempts to feel good with a search for true fulfillment and transformation. When we are naturally triggered by difficult thoughts and emotions, our work is to focus on a heart level celebration of the coming of Jesus. He is the Light that enters into the darkness. At the darkest time of the midwinter, we can embrace a celebration of the True Light. He has the power to enter into our heart struggles and transform, heal and save us both now, and eternally.

The goal of Christmas is to experience Epiphanies, or to lead children and adults alike to a revelation of Jesus Christ. As we do this, it helps us to stay focused on the Light. There are many symbols at the heart of the Christmas celebration that can help us keep this heart focus. One example is the Christmas tree.

One legend about the origin of the Christmas tree centers on Boniface, an English Benedictine monk who was a missionary to Germany. As the story goes, in 723, Saint Boniface encountered winter sacrifices being conducted in front of a mighty oak tree dedicated to Thor, near Geismar, in what is now Germany. In anger, Boniface seized an axe and cut down the large oak tree in one mighty blow. The gathering of local townspeople expected Thor to strike Boniface with a bolt of lightning, and when the lightning failed to appear, Boniface proclaimed Jesus Christ as the one and only true God.

He pointed to a young fir tree growing at the roots of the fallen oak, with its branches pointing to heaven, and said that it was a Holy tree, the tree of the Christ child who brought eternal life. Also, it is said that Boniface explained the triangular shape of the fir tree as an illustration of the Trinity. Retelling historical legends such as these helps us move from feeling to purpose, secular to sacred.

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