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How Meaning Gets Lost

Updated: Jan 2, 2019

I love Christmas. Most people seem to love Christmas. That love often turns creative. We creatively associate some things with Christmas since they illuminate the story. And some ideas wander far afield. They may be fun but tend to cloud the picture. For some people it gets confusing or even boring!

Listening to NPR this week, I heard a pop musician say he only recorded one Christmas album in 20 years. As he put it, “It’s hard to create new Christmas music, because you only have a few subjects to choose from, like Santa, winter, snow, bells, joy, or family gatherings. And there already are so many songs about these subjects.” What’s missing here? How did it get so boring for him?

Thinking about that, I decided to list all the things I know of associated with Christmas and see where it goes. The clusters I made are mostly historical. Some overlap and some naturally grow out of others.

Bible events and theological ideas

Jesus, Mary/Joseph, angels, good news, shepherds, light, star, wise men, gifts,

God, the Word (Logos), favor, glory, joy, hope, grace, goodness, love

The Season

(Jesus’ birth date was set by Pope Julius about 340 A.D.)

Dec. 25, winter, snow, winter solstice, light overcoming darkness

Worship & community

Worship, music, carols, candles, midnight mass, light/darkness,

advent wreath/candles, ceremonies, decorations, colors-red/green/white

dinners for the underprivileged

Legends & traditions

St. Nicolas’ generosity for the poor (bishop in Turkey about 330 A.D.),

Santa Claus (personage inspired by the above), gifts to children

Santa Lucia, Gospel and light for Scandinavians , reindeer

Christmas trees, holly with red berries, poinsettias, mistletoe

north pole, letters to Santa, little / big red sleigh


Gatherings, reunions, feasting, candles, children, gifts, joy, excitement

special food, candies, cookies, treats unique to families or ethnic groups

Christmas greeting cards, letters, expressions of love and affection


Anticipation, excitement, disappointment, nostalgia, heartache over losses

Cultural spinoffs in the northern hemisphere

Winter/snow, horse drawn sleighs, sleigh bells, snow men, fun, Rudolf

special movies, wrapping paper, ribbons, bells, songs/music, concerts

holidays, celebrations, time off, parties, drinking, gaiety, foolish behavior

Business and economy

Gifts, travel, spending, borrowing, boost the economy.

There’s plenty to sing about! But if we become captivated by the items farther across the line or down the page we might lose sight of what is at the top. We can get excited over decorations, or travel, or gifts, or depressed about the cost, or over family and friends lost. We may cram our schedule with family obligations, doing good for the needy people, or attending special events all in a few weeks. We can get exhausted. We don’t have time to be refreshed by the Good News of Jesus’ coming.

What to do about this? For me, it’s essential to prepare for Christmas with daily reminders of Jesus. Reading the familiar Gospel stories and Bible prophecies. Lighting advent candles in the wreath to mark the weeks. Singing some carols every day to celebrate Jesus, the reason for it all. And finally, reading at least a little bit of a Gospel every day all year, too. Seeing everything else through that lens. It’s a pretty sight when I do that.

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