Friday Minute: Blending secular, religious Christmas traditions

Published: Thursday, Dec. 15 2011 5:38 p.m. MST

The Christmas season seems to evoke a broad range of emotions. While there is a palpable sense of generosity this time of year, that charitable spirit competes with crass commercialism. While some feel the joy of the season, others feel pain or loneliness as a difficult year comes to a close.

Even a few Christians reject Christmas because it was originally a pagan celebration of the winter solstice.

For me, the blending of the season’s good secular traditions doesn’t offend my desire to focus on the miracle of Bethlehem.

Like many, I am saddened by the frenzied shopping countdown to Dec. 25 as we "buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like" (quoting my friend Mary Ellen Edmunds).

However, the secular traditions of Christmas needn’t detour believers from the humble manger or the incomparable life that followed. Sometimes such traditions can actually enhance our religious worship. They can also motivate us to comfort the lonely and soothe the pain of the holidays for those who suffer.

Santa kneeling

Meet my friends Dave and Bev Taysom. Having returned a few years ago from a humanitarian mission to Nepal, the Taysoms selflessly serve their family, church and community.

Each Christmas season they display a porcelain figurine in their living room. It is Santa kneeling at the manger before the baby Jesus. The striking image of the portly gift-giver worshipping the author of the gift of eternal life is a rich reminder of the Christ in Christmas.

Mixed traditions

While some parents feel that raising a Christian child requires a Santa-free home, I don’t feel that way. As Christian parents, we always make Jesus the center of our Christmas. Winking at Santa never deflects our focus on Christ.

For our family, the Savior’s birth, life and atonement are especially poignant at Christmastime.

Among our family traditions is a love of Christmas carols and hymns, blending the secular with the sectarian. We sing on the doorsteps of various homes. There, we deliver cinnamon rolls and cookies with a smile and Merry Christmas on our lips.

We also look for service projects to help the needy; anything from local homeless shelters to canned food drives.

While some reject secular traditions such as Christmas trees, sparkling lights and hot apple cider, our Christmas Eve blends these traditions with a reading of the birth of baby Jesus from the account in Luke, Chapter 2 of the Bible. Then, our grandchildren re-enact the manger scene.

Sometimes we watch a traditional holiday movie, like "It’s A Wonderful Life." Such films serve to remind our family of the second chance found in repentance, and gratitude for the gift of life itself.

Whatever your secular family traditions at Christmastime, there is an increase of joy when we make room for the Christ in Christmas.

Secular and religious traditions can peacefully co-exist. For me, Santa kneeling before the manger is a tender reflection that "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess" that Jesus is the Christ (Isaiah 45:23; Mosiah 27:31).

Merry Christmas.

William Monahan graduated from BYU law school. An Air Force veteran and former Phoenix stake president, he teaches law and serves as a high councilor for QC Chandler Heights Stake. Brother Monahan begins service July 2012 as a mission president.

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