I believed in Santa Claus until I was 11. Ironically, it was not because of my gullibility but rather for my logical sensibility. To me, the idea of a fantastical bearded fat man was patently absurd, but that absurdity was not strong enough to untether the bond of trust I had with my parents.
Why would loving, generous, and otherwise great parents (this deception aside) intentionally perpetuate my ignorance and compromise my social standing? I reasoned that my parents would never lie to me, and it would be out-of-character and inconsistent with 11 years of love. To me, it was a valid proposition that the relationship trumped the rational. But I was wrong—their exuberance was spellbound by the “magic of Christmas.”
The “magic of Christmas,” as practiced in our contemporary context, is frenzied seasonal dizziness, detachment, and disorientation from genuine purpose and meaning, with symptoms commonly manifested in endless distractions of festive folly. The modern American observance of Christmas has been relegated to a series of frenetic transactions and cultural obligations for its participants. The commercialization of Christmas and the wanton material and vacuous consumption during the season, have given me Christmas fatigue.
Before you write me off as a Grinch, I admit I am writing this with tongue-in-cheek hyperbole designed to stimulate reflection. For the record, I hang lights on my house, put up a Christmas tree, indulge in cookies, and genuinely enjoy the season. However, I am advocating a reformation of Christmas, a return to a low-calorie, relaxed, and fiscally-responsible Christmas season. Anyone who feels their life is hijacked by the rush of the holiday season only to be released to the emotional emptiness of December 26th would agree. Taking a page from the popular author Simon Sinek, who employs the approach of Socrates, we must start with asking “the why.” Why do we hang lights, bake cookies, and exchange gifts? Why does my New Year start with excess weight and credit card bills—Why do we celebrate Christmas? Without the “why,” it is all in vain, and more importantly, “the why” governs “the how.”
In 2021, Lifeway Research surveyed over 1,000 people and found that over 90% celebrate Christmas. Yet, only 22% could provide an accurate biblical account of Jesus’ birth.
Not wanting to be duped again like I was about Santa, I recently investigated the reliability and historicity of the nativity narrative found in the Bible. To my surprise, critical textual scholars who undergo the rigors of strict historical method and historiography almost unanimously affirm the actual and historical life of Jesus. This includes a range of scholars from believers to skeptics—yes skeptics, who are agnostics or atheists. In fact, critical textual scholars conclude the New Testament is the most reliable and well-attested collection of ancient writings in both quantity and quality. According to New Testament scholar Dr. Stanley Porter, there are approximately 7,200 New Testaments in Greek and 10,000 in Latin, not to mention over 9,300 additional copies cataloged in the ancient languages of Coptic, Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Armenian, and Ethiopic. They include eyewitness accounts from Apostles Matthew and John, as well as early investigators of first-hand sources Mark and Luke—in addition to the 180-degree conversion of Paul. Compare this to the mere 1,000 total manuscripts for Homer’s Iliad as cited by the University of Chicago. In addition, the life of Jesus is directly named by ancient non-believing historians Josephus and Tacitus and extensive references in writings by second-century church fathers.
As evidence ranging from archeology to psychological analysis of the first Christ followers piles up in favor of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, no plausible and cogent theories or evidence to the contrary have been presented.
Earlier, I mentioned that relationship supersedes reason, but in this case, reason and relationship dovetail. Following Christ is not about rule-keeping—it is belief in God sending His Son as the sacrifice to atone for our selfishness and defiance, and restore our relationship with God. He is the One Who gives us meaning and purpose, and ultimately fulfillment—not just in the Christmas season but for a lifetime. That is the gift of Christmas, and the only way to reciprocate this gift exchange is to offer our life to be obediently committed to God and strive to live harmoniously with others.
Unlike Santa in the North Pole, the avalanche of evidence supporting the actual life of Jesus the Messiah is worth believing. If you remain a skeptic, then I invite you to an objective search into the historical Jesus. For you who believe, we are called to celebrate Christmas in meaningful ways that bring glory to God’s Gift to the world. For those of us who are parents or grandparents, it is imperative that our Christmas season celebrations reflect patterns and behaviors that instill the wonder and true magic of the Christmas miracle.