There are Christmas tales that are told repeatedly, whether conveyed by song, film, or the printed page. They’ve become part of the lexicon we use to express what Christmas means to us.
While on the surface there are obvious differences between the cultural and spiritual expressions of Christmas, their messages really are the same. The stories we tell today are ones that have stood the test of time, and the mixing and evolution of cultures. Traditions born from long, cold nights are today celebrated in the southern hemisphere where it’s summer in December, on tropical islands, and in non-Christian countries.
So it doesn’t matter what the images are, whether they are the story of Jesus’ birth or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, they’re all telling the same story—the story of us.
On the December 8 episode of Pop Conscious on Unity Media Network, we looked at the evolution of our culture’s nonreligious concepts of Christmas. From the 1823 poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” to Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol; through advertisements and depictions from 1900 to the 1930s; into influential movies and songs of the 1940s and 1950s; and onto the generation-shaping TV specials of the 1960s and 1970s—we discussed the modern twists and retellings from the 1980s to now. Here are some themes echoing through them all, to create the constellation of meanings describing how Christmas makes us feel.
Darkness: From the darkness, we look for the light—a change, a shift toward hope. At the end of another year, we may feel tired and weary, looking forward to a vacation, some rest, and some fun. So we watch for a star, or a sleigh, in the night sky.
Light: Winter solstice is nature’s tipping point from dark to light—as days become longer, and light and warmth return. Until then, decorations with candles, colored lights, or roaring fires bring beauty and joy to the darkness, and warmth physically and mentally.
Evergreens: The reminder that life continues, despite bleak appearances that might indicate otherwise.
Gift-Giving: This strengthens the ties that help us survive—part of both the cultural and the spiritual, whether it’s from Santa or from wise men. Feelings of obligation take the joy out of it, if we let it. However, it can also help us recognize how and in whom we invest our energy, and gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves how we can best express our gratitude.
Celebration: Events that give us something to mark the passage of time are necessary for the human psyche. Ecclesiastes 3:1 explains, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Celebration helps us acknowledge energetic turning points in a year—the completion of work, planting, harvesting, weather shifts, important historical anniversaries, and so on.
Redefining: Christmas comes with reminders about who we are. Have we been naughty or nice? Or “Should auld acquaintance be forgot?” Family gatherings may cause us to resist or embrace where we came from. It also inspires us to be our best selves.
Miracles: Unexpected serendipity, from a gift delivered through means that defy physics to a gathering of unlikely strangers, Christmas stories help us remember to believe.
Rest: Animals hibernate, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen!” is sung and we find ourselves grateful for comforts making us feel precious and swaddled in the love of God.
Whatever the themes or symbols, if it makes your heart glow and your spirit soar, let it be your gift to yourself this Christmas!