What Christians Are Getting Wrong About the True Christmas Story

Sorry Church, I’ve followed your advice year after year while never achieving the mountain-top holiday season of boundless joy as promised.

I have a secret. I don’t love holidays—any of them, actually. I don’t even love… Christmas.

I don’t share this often as the outrage it creates is only topped by my equal disdain for the State Fair (a cardinal sin in Minnesota).

I know what I’m supposed to feel this time of year: wonder, magic, inclusion, excitement, hope, joy, peace, and a never-ending sugar rush.

I know what I’m supposed to do this time of year: sprint around like a maniac, prepare, shop, wrap, scramble, stress, cook, bake, drink, sing, rip a Tickle-Me-Elmo out of someone’s hands at Wal-Mart whilst punching them in the face and—of the most importance—explode with around-the-clock merriment like Santa’s over-caffeinated PR rep.

via GIPHY

But, despite this culturally prescribed norm for the perfect Christmas season, it’s never really worked for me.

Am I alone? Am I the only one who annually identifies with Cindy Lou Who, perpetually asking the universe, “Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you?”

It seems the “Christian” thing to do in this predicament is to strive harder.

We’re told to go buy a garland-decorated devotional written by a refined Christian celebrity so that we can slave daily to perfectly prepare our hearts and minds to receive the most precious gift we didn’t deserve (after we finish dressing and hiding the Elf on the Shelf for the 23rd time, obviously).

If we want to truly enjoy Christmas we have to earn it. 

The implied message is this: if you feel empty or disconnected on December 25th it’s because you didn’t do enough to be worthy of your place in this polished and magicalstory.

Work. Strive. Produce. Run on the hamster-wheel-like a maniac until you collapse on December 26th with Post-Christmatic Stress Disorder. That, my friends, is the true meaning of Christmas.

Sorry Church, I’ve followed your advice year after year while never achieving the mountain-top holiday season of boundless joy as promised.

My Christmas story never mirrors the perfect nativity fairy tale being offered.

You know the story, we’ve all heard it a million times. Here are the Cliff Notes:

  • There, in a manger, lies the perfect newborn Gerber Messiah who miraculously has no physical signs from the trauma of exiting the birth canal. He has no redness or splotches, no crying or latching issues… just blue-eyed, blonde haired perfection incarnate.
  • The virgin Mary glows as if posing for the cover of Vogue whilst displaying a Marilyn Monroe million-dollar smile since clearly she did not experience the excruciating labor pains, messy afterbirth or the unmentionable post-birth p word… *whispers* placenta.
  • Joseph, the strong silent type, is definitely not terrified about anything like his wife (the virgin) giving birth, the astronomically high odds of his new wife dying during said birth, and, oh yeah, the fact the HE JUST BECAME A “DAD” (quotes pending a DNA test).
  • Surrounding this calm and perfect new family is a group of animated livestock who smell of gingerbread lattes and definitely not like excrement that fountains out of them every hour on the hour.
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In this story, there are no signs of fear or actual birth. No blood or sweat or tears. No, no, no, no, no. That stuff is yucky and there is nothing uncomfortable, painful or YUCKY about Christmas. Got it?

For much of the past few years I’ve been writing about why the Church has lost its relevance in today’s culture and, despite being screamed at and cold-shouldered, I still have a lot of quiet ideas. But the more I listen, the more I think a lot of it boils down to this: we’re telling the wrong the stories.

We change the bible to fit our consumerist world-view.

We tell polished, commercialized, Hallmark versions of biblical events that can easily be molded into an army of plastic light-up nativity statues ready to serve as the first line of defense during the hundred-year “War on Christmas.”

We prescribe cultural norms to this holiday—norms of achieving, working, arguing and distracting—instead of the biblical truths of resting, breathing, simplifying, and connecting.

In a world that rarely feels safe or quiet, we’ve whitewashed the Christmas story to shield ourselves from the realities of life. We’ve turned Christmas into an escape rather than entering into the gritty, painful, love-filled event it is: The event that changed the entire trajectory of human history.

The true story of Christmas didn’t happen apart from sexual assault, natural disasters, or mass murders; the son of God came here to be with us in the hurt and the wafting stench of manure.

The true Christmas story is not one of perfection, but rather one of labor pains and blood, looming genocides and hope, yes, hope in the unlikeliest of places.

So if your December doesn’t feel Disney World magical, perhaps you’re not actually missing out on anything at all. Maybe it’s time we all stop indulging in the nostalgia of our own revisionist history and instead, enter into the reality of this vulnerable and delicate story together.

Blessings and love to all of you my friends,

Sam Eaton
Sam Eaton is the founder of Recklessly Alive, a suicide prevention ministry sprinting towards a world with zero deaths from suicide. Sam blogs about adventure, faith, relationships and struggle at RecklesslyAlive.com and is finishing his first memoir entitled (you guessed it) Recklessly Alive: From Suicide Attempt to Abundant Life.

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