It seems like the end came long before we realized it. That Christmas actually died years before we knew it, like they say that a star burns out but we don’t know if for years. It’s a funny thing, stars. It was a star that guided the way back in the Scriptural origins of Christmas, and maybe a star could bring us back.
Christmas had been running on empty for awhile. Sure, it was still the best time for companies to make loads of money, from Black Friday through Cyber Monday through the weeks of returns and more overspending in the two weeks after Christmas. Did you know that more people go to the movies on Christmas Day than any other day of the whole year? The commercialized week leading up to and around Thanksgiving had become like a zombie apocalypse, people mindlessly standing in line to buy great “deals” on things they didn’t need.
But when the public outcry over religious persecution reached a high, they decided that Christmas needed to be “toned down” to not be so oppressive. Churches could still have services at first, but they couldn’t advertise, because that was too pushy. Stores could use green and red, and other holiday decorations, but the religious and faintly religious music was initially “suggested” to be removed, and later banned.
A few years later, churches were told that they could meet but not on December 25 because that was for the holiday, not for a Christ-related function. Churches moved the dates around but with all of the family obligations and other functions, the attendance began to suffer. And then it finally died out.
Still, the birth of Christ was celebrated in church throughout the telling of the gospel story, and families could still read the Bible and focus their attention on generosity. Until the government ordered that no new copies of the Bible be introduced into circulation, declaring that it was too troubling. They said that the emphasis on Jesus’ birth leading to Jesus’ death put a damper on the focus on shopping and celebration around the time now determined to be the Christmas month.
It took some time but the Bible’s circulation waned, and people resorted to visiting isolated hotels to see if they could retrieve a copy of the Gideons’ version. But churches were on the decline, too, with the emphasis on tolerance and the pressure put on churches to keep the offensive elements of Jesus’ birth and life from influencing people. And then the church finally died out.
As one can imagine, Christians soon went into seclusion, as groups that met publicly were disbanded, and outspoken individuals were jailed for disturbing the peace. The month of Christmas became more financially relevant than the other months of the year… combined… and the big box companies complained that the fringe Christians left were hampering sales by their notions about generosity and perceived anti-possession mentality.
That’s when it became illegal to talk about your faith, inside or outside your home. The government had already ruled that information passed over the phone or Internet was open to examination, but now, every house was wired and potentially observed. Fines were handed down, but when families in pockets around the country continued to light candles on the twenty-fifth of December, read their frayed Bibles, and exchange presents only on that day, stronger action was taken.
The first arrest happened seven years after the first Christmas service was disbanded. But thousands followed over the next several Christmases. Still, remnants of the church continued to light candles, and get arrested. There were soon more Christians serving time than any other type of criminal, and every Christmas, they found ways to light something in the windows of their cells.
I remember paying a guard with a pack of cigarettes I’d traded for a new pair of shoes, just to get a single match. My first candle was wax I’d melted and shaped with a paper wick. But they soon got wise, and cracked down on our trading. We kept getting more and more dangerous, even though every Christian I knew was in prison, too. We’d have to fight, wouldn’t we?
I prayed for my jailers, I prayed for the government. I even tried to forgive the neighbor who’d pointed out to the local police chief that I’d wished him Merry Christmas and drawn attention to my family’s celebrations.
By the fourth Christmas, I had about given up. They had literally removed every ounce of flammable material from my cell. They’d blacked out all of the windows, and given us rations to eat for a week so that we’d have no communication with anyone for the week that the twenty-fifth of December fell during. Maybe it was time to let go of Christmas.
But I remember that last night, I had almost given up. I was ready to swear that I’d never mention Christmas again, that the Holiday Month was the end all and be all, that as a good citizen I supported it fully and would spend my wages during that month. I knew that something within me was dying, that the hope was about worn out.
Then I heard it. The sound was barely intelligible at first. And then it grew. It was familiar but strange, and by the time it came to me, and I began to hum, it sounded like this: “Son of God, love’s pure light, Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace.”
And I recognized that no matter what they did to us, it could still be Christmas in our hearts. Teeth chattering, isolated and alone, I whispered:
“Christmas isn’t dead yet.”
This is an original ‘musing’ but I am thankful for the musical works of Downhere (“Christmas In Our Hearts”) and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (“I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.”) Be blessed, and keep Christmas in your heart, no matter what it costs!