Camille Brayshaw/Fourth Estate

Every year we hear the question: “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” Every year, I usually hear three basic responses.

The most common is some generic and empty rambling about “giving” or “family,” fit to be the message of a B-list Christmas movie found in a Walmart DVD bargain bin. Another response to the question is a shouting match over the non-existent, media fabricated, so-called “war on Christmas” which shall not receive any more attention than this sentence. But perhaps the most boring and soulless answer is: “It’s just another holiday.” Few make the effort to understand the religious and secular implications of why Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.

Things such as how Christmas is celebrated, what date it falls under and the mythology attached to it have all changed with the time, culture and country. Many countries celebrate it on December 25th, but countries with predominantly Eastern Orthodox populations celebrate it on the 6th or 7th of January. The Armenians living in Jerusalem celebrate it on the 18th and 19th of January.

But it’s not just the date that can be unique. Many of the local Christmas traditions seem unusual to outsiders. In Sweden it’s a tradition to burn a yule goat, in Norway they hide their brooms, and in Germany people dressed as St. Nicholas hide candy and oranges in the shoes of children. However, one thing about Christmas which will always remain the same no matter where, when, or how it is celebrated is its ultimate purpose: commemorating Christ’s birth.

Perhaps the most blunt explanation comes from Linus’s speech from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” After Charlie Brown vents his frustration over the Christmas question, Linus eloquently quotes a portion from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke describing the angel’s declaration that Jesus Christ, a Savior, had been born.

That may have been all fine and dandy for the generation from 1965 (the year the special came out), but much has changed since then. Stories from the Bible are not as well-known. This scene means far less to our generation because it is far too blunt. It’s a sermon, and it doesn’t connect to today’s more secular audience. So what does Christmas mean to us? More importantly, what should Christmas mean to us?

No matter how secular society becomes, there can be no beating around the bush: Christmas is a religious holiday. This does not mean non-Christians are not allowed to celebrate it or can’t emphasize different aspects, such as the decorations, time with family and away from work, the songs, etc. However — no matter what your background is — society must acknowledge that Christmas celebrates the ultimate gift: salvation from our sins in the form of a child born in Bethlehem. We don’t give gifts on Christmas just for the purpose of giving each other more stuff. We give them as expressions of love. 

I recall when I was younger I was upset with my friends because they did not give me back gifts which I deemed to be equal to what I gave them. I felt betrayed, as though they needed to validate me by giving me something in return. Noticing my distress, my mother taught me a lesson I have never forgotten: I should expect nothing in return, and still love giving anyway.

Although I’ve gotten better, I’m far from perfect. But that is exactly why Christmas is worth celebrating. God gave his only Son so we have a hope of redemption. That is why we celebrate Christmas. We’ll never be perfect, but we can celebrate the fact we are redeemed from our imperfections and loved in spite of it.