Love it or hate it, Christmas is coming. In Christian circles the arrival of Christmas is accompanied by a raft of complaints that the birth of Jesus has been squeezed out, that commercialism has taken over, and that Christmas isn’t about Jesus any more.
The truth is that Christmas didn't start out as a Christian festival. Long before Christianity came to northern Europe, people celebrated Yule on midwinter's night. They decorated their homes with evergreen plants, and lit lights to mark the resurgence of the sun and it’s victory over death and darkness. In Scandinavia, they believed that the god Odin rode across the sky that night on his 8 hoofed horse, reassuring humanity that light and life were on their way. With the arrival of Christianity, the traditional Yule decorations were reinterpreted as symbols of God’s light coming into the world, and Odin was rebranded as St Nicholas.
As Christmas didn’t originally belong to Christianity, Christians don’t need to feel resentful about it’s secular features. We would do better to follow the good example of our forebears, who accepted the enduring popularity of the festival and used it as an opportunity to draw attention to the good news about Jesus.
The European winter festival has always been about hope and good news. Deep in the heart of Yule was a belief that good is stronger than evil, life is stronger than death, and light stronger than darkness. These same themes lie at the heart of the Christian good news. As St John put it, "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
The key task for Christians at Christmas-time is to draw attention to the real hope that the world can be a better, brighter place if people follow the example and teaching of Jesus. And we need to do that, not by getting grumpy, but in the same quiet, humble and gentle manner that God came into our world.