Live from America! What is Christmas?

Diary Entry 12/15/15  (For an explanation of the series Live from America! Click here.)

Dear Advanced Life Form (ALF):

Today I went out to lunch with some friends to celebrate Christmas.  Tomorrow I will go to a Christmas party with co-workers.  I have already been to a few other Christmas celebrations and plan to attend several more before the season is over.  I am in a sugar-induced coma from all the Christmas cookies I’ve eaten.  In a word, I am an American.



If you wish to understand the Ways of My People, ALF, you will need to understand what Christmas is all about.  Christmas is a Christian holiday, and its purpose is to celebrate the birth of Christ.  Christians believe that Christ is the human incarnation of God and that Christ sacrificed himself on the cross so that our sins would be forgiven and we would have eternal life.  Christmas is all about love and an appreciation for our creator and redeemer.

Adoration of the Shepherds
Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard von Honthurst, 1622

We Americans are a religious people, and we take all this Christmas stuff seriously.  We show our devotion by shopping–I mean serious, hard-core, shopping.  I’m not talking “Oh, I think I’ll buy an orange for little Mikey and put it in a stocking and he will be ever-so-grateful.”  I’m talking  $465 billion on Christmas gifts this year, or around an I-Pad and an X-Box per person.  We celebrate God’s love by stressing ourselves out.  We spending money we don’t have to buy gifts that our loved ones don’t need and sometimes don’t even want. We do this for Jesus.


We do this because back in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, they didn’t have much in the way of retail stores or gift certificates, and we feel bad about that.  We want to make up for the toy cars, video games, and gift certificates to iTunes that Jesus didn’t have when he was a boy.

Don’t get me wrong, though, ALF.  Christmas isn’t just about stuff.  It’s also about decorating fake pine trees with pretty, shiny things.  And it’s about music—glorious sacred music.  I know a lot of people think that Handel’s Messiah” is the bees’ knees when it comes to Christmas music.  I’m not so sure about that.  Handel was all right, but he doesn’t hold a candle to the real genius of Christmas music: Johnny Marks, the composer of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Because ultimately, Christmas is about reindeer.  Whether black-nosed, brown-nosed, or red-nosed; whether from the Middle East, the North Pole, or Wisconsin,  reindeer are people, too.


And that, ALF, is why we spend so much money on Christmas that our entire economy hinges on retail sales in December.

I hope this clears up any questions you may have about Christmas.  It’s really pretty simple.

Oh–and Christmas is also about Jingle Cats singing “White Christmas.”

Author: DebraB

I am a Professor of English at Concordia University-St. Paul. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research interests include American literature, contemporary literature, Middle Eastern literature, African literature and feminist theory.

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