The three faces of Christmas


Do we have 3 totally different Christmases? All celebrated by separate groups of people but with considerable overlap in the way each are celebrated to a greater or lesser extent by each of us.

The question arises from the old argument about Christmas being a religious celebration, not a frivolous “holiday” or commercial one.

In the 4th century BC, the date of 25 December was agreed by the Western Christians as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. Eastern denominations believed that January 6 was the correct date.

The first face of Christmas is the religious one, the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is the reason many Christians flock to church services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. For many, the only time they will attend a church service during the year, apart from obligatory attendances at funerals or more enthusiastic enjoyment of  weddings.

Then there is the traditional face of Christmas, in some ways another side of the religious face, in some ways different altogether. Almost like the left and right profiles of a persons face, many shared features but a different overall appearance.

Over the last few centuries, the exchange of gifts and Christmas cards, introduction of Christmas decorations, a week of rich eating, entertaining and a holiday atmosphere have become part of tradition . The first recorded use of the term “Christmas Tree” was in 1835 although boughs of trees had been used for Christmas decorations since the 8th century.


The traditional face of Christmas is increasingly being celebrated by people of other religions, atheists and non-practicing Christians.

With or without gifts and large meals, Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to relax and unwind for a few days from the pressures of work or business. A time to spend with family, remembering good times from Christmases past and making plans for the new year.

Finally, the commercial face of Christmas, to many the least desirable. Unquestionably linked symbiotically with the traditional or holiday face. The availability of Christmas products and services feeding the shopping frenzy at retail and on-line stores. The frenzied consumers creating increasing demand for new stuff to be developed. Cause and effect? Driven by the power of advertising?

There is no question that the Christmas holiday shopping season has a huge impact on the economy. Certain retail sectors like jewellery and other luxury goods, make 60% of their sales in the last 6 weeks of the year, The trickle down effect benefits many industrial and service sectors too.

It is ironic that many of us who complain about the “commercialisation” of Christmas are some of the most frequent visitors to the shopping malls. Huge numbers also owe some or all of their business or employment income to this seasonal surge in sales.

Which face of Christmas we support most strongly is our choice, we do not have to run up huge credit card debts to outdo neighbours or wealthier family members with expensive presents.

I was fortunate that growing up in the Southern hemisphere, with Christmas being in mid summer and the middle of the crop farming season, Christmas was not as big an event as here in North America. As children, we were compelled to attend a midnight church service on Christmas Eve. When we lived on a remote farm, the nearest church was not connected to the electricity supply.

The pathway from the parking area up the steps to the church entrance was lit by candles in brown paper bags weighted down with a few inches of sand. The church interior was a spectacle with scores of candles providing light. A fitting Christmas scene.

Then with the advent of sanctions in my later teenage years and early adult hood, toys, Christmas decorations and any luxuries became extremely scarce. When my own sons arrived, finding Christmas presents became a treasure hunt. Until we moved to South Africa, their presents consisted mainly of clothes a small assortment of sweets or candies and the occasional wooden toy. No leggo, electronics or remote controlled cars during their early childhood.

With Sue overseas visiting children and grandchildren, this will be the first Christmas on my own for many years. After phoning family around the world, I will spend Christmas morning with my elder son and his children in a city not far away.

I have been well looked after by neighbours inviting me for dinner and others dropping meals off at our house. A true Christmas spirit. Despite the concerns of well-intentioned friends and neighbours, I do not find being alone, lonely. One of the advantages of being a baby boomer is the ability to be comfortable with my own company, I enjoy periods of solitude.

Without Sue, my dog, her cats and our horses keep me busy. I also use the quiet period between Christmas day and New Years day to review the year just ended and plan the year ahead.

Tonight for the first time in probably 40 years, I will go to a Christmas Eve service at a small country church nearby. Don’t worry, I have not suddenly got religion. My motivations are mixed, as much for the traditional face of Christmas as the religious. A chance to share a special time of year with people I do not yet know.

If I am honest, a trip down memory lane to that candle lit church near the village of Headlands in Rhodesia all those years ago when both my parents were alive and I had my whole life in front of me. A time when life was much more simple.

Whether it is three faces or one Christmas of many parts, it is an important celebration, as much because it is a tradition that forms the fabric of our Western societies as for its religious significance or economic benefit.

It would be a terrible shame to let Christmas get emasculated by the tide of political correctness that has already engulfed so much of what we can say or do. As I wrote in a previous post, I believe that there is hope, the tide has started to turn and common sense will prevail.

Which of the three faces of Christmas is the most important to you? Leave a comment.

Happy Christmas to you.

Peter Wright



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  1 comment for “The three faces of Christmas

  1. December 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks you so much for that great post. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it

    That old candle lite church sounds beautiful !!

    I hope you enjoyed your quiet reflective Christmas

    The commercialization of Christmas has turned it into more a time for children. Not being religious, but more spiritual my self, it has no real meaning for me. But I do enjoy the time to wish ALL a happy season and all the best for the new year.

    A time to enjoy, catch up with friends, celebrate what has past and what is to come.

    Reflection and anticipation – Learning from our past and dreaming of our future

    Merry Christmas to you and yours
    May the season and new year be filled with love, happiness and joy!!

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