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An application from my weekend homily raised a question worth exploring further. Would a non-believer, watching how I celebrate Christmas, know of my faith in Christ? Or put differently, how does someone “keep Christ in Christmas?”

It seems to me that if I shop, give and receive gifts, decorate a tree and the house, watch Christmas specials and movies, and attend parties I’m doing what everyone else is doing – including non-believers. Is saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, sending religious themed cards, and attending Mass on Christmas or Christmas Eve enough to demonstrate the importance of this holiday to my faith? I doubt it.

Jesus asked us to be a light to the world. That only works if the light we shine is brighter – significantly brighter – than what is present in the world. In other words, we have to be different and this can be hard given the fact that people are generally nice during the holiday season and Santa is a great guy! What tangible things are there to be done to show our faith and to, in fact, keep Christ in our celebrations?

The answer undoubtedly depends on individual circumstances. Maybe I can spark some creative thought with six suggestions.

1. Don’t buy any new decorations. Use only what you already have.

Clearly decorations don’t, in and of themselves, demonstrate faith – though a manger scene as a center piece of decorations might be a good idea. My thought here is a nod to the environment. Our throw-away culture is on full display when we toss Christmas lights because we don’t want to untangle or attempt to repair them. Oh, and (sorry!) there’s no way to environmentally justify a “real” cut tree for the living room. I can’t imagine this is what the good Lord had in mind when he told Adam to subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28).

There’s also the question of the money. Are we the best stewards of our money when we buy decorations? Can we do without a third waving Santa in the yard and help our favorite charity instead?

We can creatively decorate our houses with what we already have, including things that aren’t necessarily themed to Christmas. It will sound silly, but for a few years several house plants stacked on different sized boxes served as my “tree.” It was really quite nice!

2. Rethink Santa.

I know I tread on thin ice here and I’m not suggesting banning the jolly fellow from our homes. There is much that is positive about the spirit of Santa as is wonderfully illustrated by the “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa” letter. Rather, is it possible to see Santa as illustrating the love and generosity of God rather than thinking that Santa himself is the source of joy and happiness? With children maybe this takes the form of talking about Santa as an example of what God calls all of us to do. With our neighbors maybe it means not using Santa in our decorations. It might start an interesting conversation.

3. Don’t correct people who wish us Happy Holidays.

Even if our hearts are in the right place on this we still come off sounding selfish. We seem to be saying, “You must talk to me as I demand.” I wonder if we’d do better with something like: “Thank you. I love celebrating the birth of my savior. Happy Holidays to you as well!”

4. Give differently.

There are numerous stats suggesting we spend too much on gifts. The only way some of us pull this off each year is that the gifts we receive – gift cards especially – offset our expenses! What would happen if we set a ridiculously low number for all the gifts we’d give this year? If I have to provide gifts for everyone with, for example, $150, thought and creativity would be a must.

I know how crazy this sounds to my middle and upper-middle class friends but I’m aware of people who do this with great success. And, I might add, it is exactly what poor people have to do each year. If nothing else, it might help us gain some understanding of those less fortunate than ourselves.

5. Receive differently.

Is it possible to genuinely mean, “It is the thought that counts?” I hope so! But first we’ll have to give up the mental calculations we often do to determine if the value of their gift to me, minus the value of my gift to them is in my favor. We’ll also have to be prepared to give expecting nothing in return and be the recipient of gifts without feeling the need to buy the giver something.

6. Do less

Despite statements by adults to the contrary, any teenager will tell you that they can, in fact, talk to you while texting their friends. It may be rude, but it is quite doable. It also pretty much maxes out their mental powers. In other words, they can’t talk to you, text, and do something else.

We have the same issue when it comes to Christmas. We may get a bit stressed but most of us can keep up with our holiday schedule and obligations. The problem is that, like the teens, it maxes us out which means that there’s no opening for us to sense or encounter God’s Spirit. The only way God gets to be part of our Christmas celebration is if we put some margin into our schedules. Perhaps if we slow down, we’d have time to pray, meditate, and grow in our appreciation and understanding of the incarnation – the staggering idea of God becoming a human.

A heart aware of God’s Spirit and love surely can’t be over powered by the trappings of Christmas and maybe that’s the key to keeping Christ in Christmas. It starts within.