I’m really struggling with this whole holiday/Christmas tree debate. In principle, I completely agree that the large, plastic plant propped up in the corner of our living room, nearly obstructing the view of the television and tempting the cat with its dangling bobbles, has always been (at least in more recent history) a Christmas tree. I don’t figure I’ll ever call it anything else.
For those on the outside of Christianity, however, a trend has emerged to refer to it as a “holiday tree.” This allows those who don’t celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ to center their activities around a symbol of family togetherness and to decorate their family rooms with stylish, seasonal décor, just in time for all of those “holiday” parties. Seen in this light, who wouldn’t want to vacuum up dying pine needles for the entire holiday season?
Do I think it’s logical that nonbelievers would want to co-opt a religious holiday and then strip it of all spiritual significance? I really don’t get it. I’ve never celebrated a Jesus-centered Diwali. It would make no sense! But here’s the real issue: those who insist on celebrating the holidays, decorating holiday trees, or hosting holiday parties, are offering believers a glimpse into their hearts. I would guess that the majority of the time, someone using these terms would be communicating, “I don’t believe in the One you call Savior. I don’t celebrate his birth. I celebrate a secularized version of your holiday, chock full of all the reindeer, presents, family, and eggnog anyone could stand. I just don’t worship your Jesus.”
Does this make me want to respond with a superior attitude, burn their “holiday” cards in a ceremony on the front lawn, or boycott their stores? No! I must feel sorrow for anyone who has not yet come to know Christ as I have. It wasn’t long ago that I was in the same position, arrogantly denying that I needed a Savior or a Lord. Perhaps in my lostness, I still celebrated a religiously inspired Christmas, and even made an annual appearance in a church where I listened to a reading of the Christmas story and sang a few hymns about shepherds and angels and the birth of a mysterious baby. Could I have then been any better off spiritually than those who simply refuse to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas?
So how do we live out the love of Christ at Christmas time, in the midst of a barrage of ever-increasing “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings?” First, if you happen to be a recipient of such warm wishes, realize a friendly gesture for what it is and strike up conversation with the person. Then, look for an opportunity to share about the birth—and death and resurrection of Jesus, which indeed centered around a different tree altogether. First Peter 3:15 warns, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Look at the holiday/Christmas discussion as a means for sharing God’s love for the world with those who do not yet know his grace. And don’t get hung up on all of the seasonal tradition and terminology.