Christmas is a strange holiday and tradition within Christianity. Its immense popularity speaks to its power, of course, but why? Why has Christmas practically surpassed Easter in the eyes of contemporary Christian culture? How has a celebration that only came about a few hundred years after Christ come to dominate the liturgical cycle?
Easter, of course, gives hope in its miraculous nature–but Easter is a far more challenging celebration. Easter necessitates belief in the impossible–a person rising from the dead with supernatural powers three days after being tortured and executed. Christmas, on the other hand, celebrates the most basic activity of humanity, that which ties us to all living things: birth. Even for the skeptic, it is not hard to buy in to Christmas. We celebrate the birth of a baby who lived up to his potential. We give gifts in honor of his teachings of charity and love.
Christmas, of course, is not about the gifts. It is about hope. It is about reclaiming the humanity of Jesus who seems so divine and inhuman on Easter Sunday, despite just dying. Christmas reminds us that Jesus was, actually, human, along with his divine.
Society has always, and likely will always, tend towards two poles: believe either in humans alone (leaving religion and God out of it all), or believe only in God (leaving humans and their horribleness by the wayside). The beauty and hope of Christmas–what one might call the magic–lay in the realization that the two must become one. Christ was not born as some impervious superhuman with a mutant mother and an Avenger for a father. He was not the child of a great ancient sorcerer. He was born helpless and naked in the common act of childbirth to two bewildered yet hopeful parents.
He cried, he nursed, he slept, he cried some more. His mother worked hard to figure out how to care for her first child, undoubtedly asking help of other mothers around her. While she knew, in some ways, that he was of God, she also knew–as all parents know–that his survival relied quite entirely on her. (As a side note, this reliance is also why Christmas is the perfect time for Protestants and Catholics to forget–not accentuate–their Mariological differences and remember this strong woman of faith as one Christian family.)
Hope today in those around you, especially in the ones that seem lost. Hope, hope, hope, despite all the news and terror and sadness. Chances are high that we will not end wars tomorrow. Odds are against the chance that we will rid poverty tomorrow. But odds have been long before. Have hope.