Catholic Values Column: Reclaiming Christmas


One of my professors once said “Catholics lose our holidays and traditions to society because we fail to take ownership of them.”

The commercialization of Christmas is one effect of that; but instead of criticizing the people who only celebrate Christmas for secular reasons, we can use their excitement to lead them to the real center of Christmas.

The words of that professor have changed my perspective. It’s a much more empowering stance to think that our holidays weren’t taken from us, but rather that we essentially gave them away. We are in control of what Catholic teachings and holidays mean to secular society. Like older brothers and sisters who want to teach their siblings, we are the face of holidays like Christmas to the secular world. We can set a standard of joy or a standard of exclusion.

Even some Catholic teachings have been watered down because we don’t want to face the truth of what they are. Angels and demons are funny cartoon characters and Easter is about a rabbit. These overly simplistic versions of Catholic teachings are approachable to those of other faiths, but they completely miss the point when it comes to theological teaching.

Even worse, these simplifications cause us to take these topics less seriously and hide our own knowledge of faith. We become unable to explain them to others, and instead we perpetuate their secularization. Discussing the truth of our faith with Protestants or people of other faiths is always difficult, and a popular, though inappropriate, way to deal with the differences is to gloss over the actual facts.

It isn’t the non-Catholic world that has watered these things down; we Catholics have done it to ourselves. When we re-learn what the Church actually teaches, we can reclaim what we have lost.

After discussing how we caused the secularization of holidays, my professor offered a solution. He said that we can take back what we’ve given away through creating things that will appeal to secular people, but that will also draw them to Christ.

An even better way to bring people to Christ, beyond creating art, is by incorporating their enthusiasm for the secular aspects of the holiday, especially as Christmas draws closer.

Instead of criticizing people who only celebrate for the dinner and presents, we can recognize that they are excited for something just like we are. Jesus can’t be completely removed from the holiday.

By having a bad attitude about companies profiting on presents and people missing the real purpose of Christmas, we are only bringing culture down. People aren’t converted when we tell them they’re wrong; they are converted when we listen to them and talk to them in an encouraging way.

When we see that our friends or family aren’t as invested in the holiday as they could be, we can enjoy the secular things with them instead of condemning them. Then, we can invite them to Christmas Mass, or to pray Jesse tree reflections with us.

The real celebration of Christmas, after all, isn’t solely Christmas Mass. We aren’t called to live only in a Church, but to bring joy and faith into all situations. That includes our celebrations! God wants us to celebrate His son’s birth, and that includes our family meals and gift exchanges.

Whether your Christmas includes a big celebration or not, the joy you bring to those who have fallen away from the Church will be the real effect. As our university’s patron said, “Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words.”