Frosty the Snowman. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Santa. The Grinch. George Bailey. Good King Wenceslas. There was a time when I hated all of them. The Christmas Tree, mistletoe, lights, tinsel, the yuletide log. They were all a distraction and I couldn’t stand them. Well, lets be honest, I still hate tinsel. I am so glad that this was one Christmas decoration was left in the eighties. I would like to be able to brag that I have never had a Christmas tree in my apartment but that one holiday when I had three roommates, one of them had the audacity to break this streak. I hate you Kent. OK, not really, but I will never forgive you. OK, still not really.
Anyways, where was I? Oh yah. All of the extraneous baggage that comes with Christmas. Why do we need to have so many myths and stories that detract from Jesus, the true meaning of Christmas? That is what I used to think. They are a frivolous waste of time and attention. Aren’t they? Are they?
Frosty is a pretty simple tale. It snows one day and a bunch of kids make a snowman. When they put the hat on him, Frosty comes to life. The kids all have a riot playing with him, but then when the sun and heat return, Frosty disappears. Before leaving he promises to return. That’s it. We can talk about how Frosty is a frivolous waste of time, or we can use this story to point our children to Christ. Like Frosty, Jesus came when nobody expected. Like Frosty, Jesus brought joy to the world. Like Frosty, Jesus has left us but He promised that he will return. Is this really detracting from Christmas? Should we not be the ones who make the most of every story and opportunity to point people to Christ? Or are we called to be the ones who are wasting time and hot air declaring war on the world?
What about Rudolph? There are really two tales for this bright little guy. The original poem has Rudolph rejected by all his friends because he is different. Then on Christmas Eve Santa is having trouble finding the right presents and bumping into things because it is so dark. Then at one house he stops in, he notices Rudolph’s nose and recruits him to join the other reindeer. As dawn approaches and they return home all the other deer see Rudolph leading the pack and he suddenly goes from reject to hero. The story most of us know today has a few additions to this tale thanks to a 1960’s stop motion film. It throws in a love interest, a dentist elf, an abominable snowman, and the film turns Rudolph into Donner’s son. Still the tale is the same. The one the others rejected has become the most important of all. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?
The Grinch is actually an old Dr Seuss tale. Granted, it is not nearly as good as fox in socks, but it is probably now his most famous work since children can easily watch the both the animated and Jim Carey version every season. The Grinch is evil. He hates Christmas and the joy it brings. So this Grinch decides to go down and steal everything associated with Christmas. He takes the food, the decorations, the presents. It is all gone. Then the Grinch eagerly waits for morning to see how miserable everyone will be. But what does he hear? The joy and the merriment, the music and the cheer of Christmas isn’t diminished one iota. What can this mean? Let us hear exactly what the Grinch concludes: “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!” The Grinch puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t thought of before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!” I rest my case.
Good King Wenceslas is about a king who gave generously to the poor and a servant who followed in His footsteps. Its A Wonderful Life is all about the impact one person’s life can have on everyone around him. Even the Santa legend we know today is all about one man, who on one fateful night, gives a gift that blesses everyone throughout the world. There is so much redemptive value in each and every one of these stories if only we were to look for it and teach it to our children. These things are not distractions. They are signposts pointing us in the right direction.
This isn’t just true about the modern(ish) stories. The same is true for the legends and traditions that have been passed on down through time. Even Christmas Day was actually chosen because it falls roughly nine months after the Day of Atonement. It was not chosen to replace Saturnalia and even Deus Sol Invictus (The Day of the Victory of the Unconquered Sun) was more likely changed to fit to Christmas rather than the other way around. The Christmas tree actually began as a German Lutheran Christmas tradition as a means for the community gathered to celebrate together. The link to pagan traditions that had ceased to be practiced more than a millennia earlier is disingenuous and just plain wrong. How you can connect one tree in the center of town for a few days with branches decorating window frames hundreds of years earlier for the duration of winter is beyond me. The tradition of the poinsettia begins with the story of a poor girl who gathered wildflowers (or weeds) as the only gift she could afford give on Christmas. When she placed these on the church altar they turned into the red flower still decorating churches at Christmas today. OK, ok so there’s no redemptive history for the mistletoe but the word actually comes from two early saxon words and translates as “poo on a stick”. Who wants that for Christmas anyways?
Ultimately, it all comes down to what we are looking for. Can you find some random connections between pagan and Christmas traditions. Sometimes (but not usually), these connections actually are legitimate. So what. Even the most beautiful symbol in all Christendom, the cross, had some incredibly shady origins. Those who seek evil will find it. Also , those who look for good will find that. The question is, what are we supposed to be looking for? My Bible tells me that it is supposed to be those things that are pure, lovely, good, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. So I think I’m gonna sing a little Frosty this year. When I do, I will celebrate the promised return of the joy bringer. I might even watch a little Rudolph and remember the one who was rejected that has now become a light to guide our way.