’tis the day before Christmas…

Red candle burning, pinecones near it

December 24. What does Christmas Eve mean for you?

The last day to cram everything in before Christmas Day is upon us? Pushing it at the office? Or are you traveling, like 100 million others in the US this holiday season?

Christmas Day is tomorrow. But today is Christmas Eve.

That day is a big deal in my native Sweden. Christmas Eve is when you gather for the big dinner. When Santa comes and delivers presents to the kids. (No sneaking down the chimney at night there. He shows up in person and hands out the goods.)

Those clever Swedes, seeing as how Christmas Eve is the big celebration, designated the day before Christmas Eve, December 23, as lillejulafton (little Christmas Eve). It’s the day when you scurry about, preparing for celebrating Christmas. Which traditionally included putting up and decorating the Christmas tree.

Yep, no bringing that tree in right after Thanksgiving (not that Swedes celebrate Thanksgiving anyway). But then in Sweden, the Christmas tree and decorations will stay up until Knut (January 13).

If there were no Christmas…

No matter when, or how, you celebrate it, Christmas is a pretty big deal for most of us.

We’ve looked forward to it and counted down since at least Thanksgiving. 

And now it’s here.

What if there were no Christmas? Ever!

As C.S. Lewis put it in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “Always winter but never Christmas.” 

That’s the state of the land of Narnia when the Pevensie children first get there: The land is frozen, bleak and oppressed. In a perpetual state of fear. When the spell finally breaks, one of the first signs is Father Christmas showing up. Change has come.

Think about that. What would our world be without Christmas? A lot less stress you might say. But that’s not all.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” 

Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

The reason for Christmas

“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”

G.K. Chesterton, Brave New Family

All the holiday preparations aside, we do celebrate Christmas because of the birth of Jesus all those years ago, in the town of Bethlehem in Judea:

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Gospel of Luke 2:4-7

A birth that would rock the world and change it forever.

Paradoxically, that major news first broke to shepherds in the fields outside of town. No 24-hour news channel to cover it. And no tweets.

“God goes to those who have time to hear him—and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.”

Max Lucado

Without Christ, there’s no Christmas.

“There has been only one Christmas — the rest are anniversaries.”

W. J. Cameron

“Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.”

Eric Severeid

A bit of reflection

Because Christmas has become the biggest holiday of the year and there are so many ways to observe it, it gets confusing.

As in people feeling the need to “put Christ back into Christmas” because they don’t like how the holiday is referred to or celebrated. But really, is “Merry Christmas” somehow better than “Happy Christmas”? Or how about “Happy Holidays”? (The word ‘holiday’ comes from the Old English hāligdæg ‘holy day’.)

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

“It’s Christmas Eve. It’s-it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we-we-we smile a little easier, we-w-w-we-we-we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be.”

Bill Murray as Frank Cross in Scrooged

“Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing, but of reflection.”

Winston Churchill

Yes, Winston, Christmas is definitely a time for reflection.

And we’d do very well indeed to let Christmas be more than just one day. Peace and good-will to all people is right for every day of the year.

The gift of Christmas

“God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. If He gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it.”

Pope Francis

“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!”

Benjamin Franklin

Celebrate Christmas. Enjoy time with family and friends. Laugh, sing, be merry. And while doing so, remember the reason we’re celebrating Christmas: 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Gospel of John 3:16

Let’s not forget the receiving part: Christ, the Son of God, came into the world bringing the gift of eternal life. We’re asked for a response: To believe in him. To put our trust and faith in him. To seek him. Which brings us back to those shepherds out in the fields of Bethlehem.

When they heard the news that a Savior was born this day, they didn’t hang around debating or just go back to tending the sheep. They set off to Bethlehem to find the Savior. Having been in those hills, let me tell you, it’s no easy hike. Very steep slopes. Up and down. And surely they had to bring their herds with them, because you can’t just let sheep wander.

Even so, they went and found the newborn Savior.

Believing is taking action.

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Christmas magic is silent. You don’t hear it — you feel it. You know it. You believe it.

Kevin Alan Milne
Bethlehem, the shepherd's field
The shepherds’ field, with the city of Bethlehem visible just beyond the first ridge.