I have enjoyed watching the TV show Doctor Who for quite some time. It is a science-fiction show from the BBC. Each year they have a Doctor Who “Christmas Special.” However, this year, it made the controversial move to have a New Year’s Special rather than a Christmas Special. While this has upset some fans of the show, I was not surprised, because the show, like many other secular adaptations of Christmas was forced to make a choice with regard to Christmas: Is it a religious event or is a “spirit of.”
What I mean by this distinction, is that I often hear people talk about “the spirit of Christmas” in a rather vague tone. It conjures images of Christmas trees, warm fires, red and green coloring, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire (which I have only eaten once...and not during the Christmas season). These are very pleasant and good images. However, it runs into difficulty when the question is asked: Why does Christmas matter? If it is merely a sentimental feeling or a particular color palette, why does it matter? What is its purpose? I think this is part of what the writers for the Doctor Who show encountered and understandably, they moved on to the next holiday. There was no reason to keep it, because it had no grounding other than the habit of having a Christmas Special since 2005.
So why does Christmas matter for Catholics? Why is this an important holiday for us? While Catholics will have many of the same elements found in a secular definition of Christmas, we have one more thing...a divine savior. Christmas matters because this is the time when God reaches down from heaven to embrace humanity. God has literally become one with us. And even more...God has become one with us to save us from our sins.
Christmas is where God shows us what love truly means. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God became a human being, “so that we might know God’s love” (CCC 458). God sacrifices all of His glory, all of His comfort to become a human being, share the message of mercy and forgiveness for sins, and then to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all the sins of humanity. It is the greatest act of love.
We all have many beautiful and comforting traditions around Christmas, and these are good. We ought to decorate for Christmas and distinguish this time from others. And in the middle of these good practices, let us remember why all of this matters, why the spirit of Christmas matters...because we have a savior who loves us.