Imagine the world without the season of Christmas. It would resemble a world painted in black, white, and gray that lacked the splendor and richness of beautiful colors.
It would resemble a world without flowers or children. It would be like imagining the week without Sunday. Without Christmas as a normal part of the year and without Sunday as a special day of the week, human life soon becomes flat, plain, humdrum, and drab.
Man becomes reduced to the status of a mere worker or economic creature, a busy ant or bee. While work is essential for life and cooperates with God’s plan for man to serve his neighbor, God created man for higher purposes than economic duties.
In His infinite wisdom God recognized man’s need for celebration, leisure, and play to renew the human spirit and to rescue life from the drudgery of work and the monotony of routine.
The Christmas holy days, like all Christian feasts, lift man beyond the realm of work, money, and possessions to nourish the heart and spirit with the taste of the divine and the holy that re-creates man and cures him of world weariness.
Man Lives for Play, not Work
Without Christmas or Sunday, man soon begins to think that he lives in order to work rather than works in order to play.
Without these holy days man never looks above to see the stars or contemplates the truth, goodness, and beauty that come from God. While it is true, as St. Paul said, that “he who does not work does not eat,” it is equally true that, in Christ’s words, “man does not live by bread alone.”
Work provides for all of man’s material needs so that he can then fulfill the desires of his heart and satisfy his intellectual appetite and spiritual hunger for the “things that are above” as St. Paul says.
Work is a means to an end, not an end in itself. After providing for his body, man delights in the civilizing pleasures that lift the mind and rejoice the soul.
In the experiences of friendship, hospitality, festivity, beauty, and worship that mark the Christmas season, man plays instead of works. He does these things for the simple pleasures they offer, as activities that are desirable for their own sake and for no other reasons than the pure joy they bring.
He enjoys the gift of life, tastes the sweetness of the Lord, and regains the dignity of being a person created in the image of God with an immortal soul.
Without Christmas or Sundays, man becomes dehumanized, a slave to work, a beast of burden with no other life than physical existence. A life without beauty, play, or joy is not a human life.
A Time of Peace and Wonder
Just as God created Sunday as a day to meditate on the reality of God and to experience another life besides the daily toil of labor, God also established Christmas as a time of peace and recollection to be still, a time to stop working and being busy in order to wonder,
- to be aware of God’s nearness and presence in others
- to sense the miraculous nature of the created world
- to marvel at the gift of life and the blessings of family
- to contemplate the God of love who created man for happiness
and to have a glimpse of a God who appeared in the human body of a child as the Word became Flesh and dwelt among men so that they might have an “abundant” life beyond work, money, and necessity and look forward not only to Sundays, Christmas, and Easter but also to eternal happiness where play, leisure, joy, and peace fill all the days and seasons in an everlasting festival where all days are Sundays and all seasons Christmas holy days.
Holy days provide man perspective and enlarge his horizon. The adult world assumes a subordinate position as children appear in the forefront of human affairs, men and women turning their gaze with full concentration on the wishes and hopes of children.
At Christmas the Christ child in the Holy Family occupies the center of the Christian drama, and during this season the children in the human family also receive a special prominence. They are the recipients of gifts and wishes come true—the adult world striving to rejoice the heart of the young.
Like all holy seasons Christmas turns man’s mind from peripheral matters and ephemeral concerns to matters of central importance and lasting value.
The Happiness of the Child
Christmas concentrates the mind on the essential and the priceless—the happiness of the child.
The role of the Christ child in salvation history and the place of children in the life of the family both lie at the heart of all human happiness. Children’s priority in having a central place in the life of the family and in the business of a society orders human life according to a divine plan—the graces of God coming to mankind through the form of the Holy Child in the manger and blessings coming to parents, siblings, and extended families and to the next generation in the newborn who inspire the old, the jaded, the blasé, and the world weary to fall in love with life all over again.
As Caryll Houselander writes in The Reed of God, the child makes all things new:
“The Christ Child in a nation is like the presence of the child in the house: everything centers upon his youth; and he fills everything with his life. If he goes away, the child’s values go too, such as the sense of wonder, mystery, beauty, and adventure.”
Holy days like Christmas bring life to the world as the child fills the home with joy. When the Word became Flesh, Houselander explains, He not only carried the weight of man’s sin, “but He gave the delight, the happiness that He is, to our humanness.”
God, who is life, abundant life, and supernatural life, makes it so full the cup overflows in this season of joy, mirth, beauty, and love. Christ comes into the world as a child to fill the earth with joy just as the baby brings cheer into the household and makes all things fresh.
As Houselander observes, it is no coincidence that Christ’s humanity assumed the nature of a child:
No man ever enjoyed life as He did. He gathered up the colour, sound, meaning of everything about Him and united it all to the most exquisite sensitiveness, the most pure capacity for delight.