Various blogs have been discussing the relationship between Christmas, as practiced in American culture and Jesus Christ and Christian faith. I have not related to the concern. We put up a Christmas tree, did so today in fact, and family is coming over for a traditional Swedish Christmas Eve feast. Christian symbolism mixed with cultural expressions of that symbolism is not foreign to me, but they have functioned differently through my Swedish and German immigrant experience. It was the old world traditions with their Christ centric emphasis that served as a means to resist the denuding of Christian symbolism by Santa Clause and the child focused kitsch that represents a fairly docile and innocent event.
In contrast, I grew up with the stories of St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, how he gave gifts to poor children, throwing sacks of gold through their window: Or Santa Lucia, martyred young woman for the faith, burned at the stake. In celebration of this saint young woman of the church would process around the church with a wreath of candles (battery operated lights) on their heads. Or the oldest daughter of some Swedish families would process around with candles on their heads. Then there was the ever-present familial Advents wreath around which family advent devotions were done. Saint Nicholas and Santa Lucia are associated with Christmas and Advent because their feasts fall during Advent. Otherwise they don't have anything directly to do with the Christmas story.
Yet, the traditional celebration of these saints and the tradition of the family Advents reef, kept the focus on Christ and the reality of the "reason for the season." These celebrations (often conflated with Christmas day, and not always celebrated on their actual day, and Advent being referred to as often as not as the Christmas season, even thought the Christmas season is the 12 days after Christmas) kept Christmas from seeming to be about gifts (though gifts were given and received and greatly anticipated) or children or even family. All the celebrations, as cultural and familial as they were, always witnessed to Christ in one-way or another. They gave witness to the reality that Christ comes and transforms our lives, the Swedish and German cultural traditions of Advent and Christmas witnessed to this even as, American culture seemed to domesticate Christmas and make it all about family and Children. To that extent then I learned to see in gift giving, in Santa, remnants of the truth of Christmas, the cultural domestication still held a kernel of Christ, Santa Clause aka St. Nic. Gifts are given and received often expensive gifts God gave the greatest gift, God's son and God's self. And the Magi came to the Christ child bearing expensive and symbolic gifts.
May the one who took on our humanity,
that we may be raised to new and eternal life
Bless you and bring you peace
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen .