Christmas: Family or Faith?

Time magazine just put out this interesting article. It’s about the decline of Americans attending Christmas day services and the increase in Christmas eve services. Time points to the idea that we have embraced Christmas day as a day for family reflection and celebration instead of faith. It also discusses the idea that churches are neglecting one of the holiest days of the year, Christmas day, by placing more emphasis on Christmas Eve services or having no Christmas day service at all.

Is Christmas becoming, even to committed Christians, more about family than faith? It seems so. This year I attended Lake Avenue Church for Christmas Eve service. It had three services on Christmas Eve evening and one “Christmas carol sing along” on Christmas morning. The focus was clearly on Christmas Eve services. I’m not judging Lake Ave, that is just where I happened to go this year. My own church, Kairos, decided not to have Christmas Eve or Christmas day services at all. Being a young church in LA, very few people at the church are from the area, so even if it did have Christmas Eve or Christmas day services, I’m not sure that many would have been around to come.

Are churches moving the focus to Christmas Eve, or are the congregations the ones demanding the change by their decreasing Christmas day attendance? It’s a lot of work to put together a church service, and I would guess that low attendance on Christmas day is just enough motivation to move the focus to Christmas Eve so that all those involved with running services (staff and congregants) can spend the day with family.

These past few years I have gone to only Christmas Eve services at church. It just seems to “fit” into the busy Christmas schedule better. Normally Christmas Eve has only had one evening party, so a late afternoon service fit into the schedule. Christmas Day has had morning gift opening and family time, a big breakfast, a quick getting ready, and an all-day family party. My family could have fit in a Christmas day service, but Christmas Eve was just more convenient. I think this is probably what it comes down to for most families: Christmas Eve services are just more convenient, and as churches offer more and more Christmas Eve services and less Christmas day services, they will become even more convenient.

Is it wrong for Christians to attend only Christmas Eve services and not Christmas Day? In doing so are we neglecting one of the holiest days of the year, and, as the Time article says, embracing Americana’s focus on family? Are we emphasizing family over faith on Christmas?

I can’t answer for everyone, but I have to say this article made me rethink the holiday and convicted me. Christmas Day, and perhaps even the entire Christmas holiday, has been more about family or traditions than celebrating Christ’s birth. It’s just too busy, too hyped-up, too full of expectation and celebration, to be a good holiday to reflect upon or even celebrate Christ’s birth. My focus is elsewhere and our celebration directed at family instead of Christ. I think back on Christmases past and I cannot remember one where I truly felt like I was celebrating Christ’s birth. I know we talk about “putting the Christ back in Christmas” (I hate slogans like that), but I feel like this is different. I do remember Christ on Christmas, but the holiday itself seems much more conducive to celebrating family and loving each other. Yet, I don’t know that celebrating time with family is a bad thing. I don’t want to say that Christmas should not be about family and only about Christ. In the busy way we celebrate Christmas in America, we do seem to set up a tension between celebrating family and celebrating Christ. It seems difficult to do both on the holiday. I don’t know the answer on this one. I don’t know how you balance spending the day with family and loving each other, which is an incredibly good thing, with a desire to make the day ultimately about Christ’s birth. Yet, it seems like this is a false dichotomy, family or faith?. Is there a third way? Can we celebrate Christ’s birth with family in a way that doesn’t glorify family at the expense of worshiping Christ?

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