Christmas means many different things to many different people. For some, it’s the presents and the food. For others, it’s time spent with family and friends who we may only see once or twice a year. And for others still it’s a time to think of those who are less fortunate and to help them whenever possible.
While those reasons are all enviable it is easy to lose sight of what Christmas really means and the purpose of the season in the first place. For religious leaders in the Woolwich community, this is the season to pause and reflect on the deeper meaning of Christmas.
“Of course the meaning for us as a community of faith is that Christmas focuses on Jesus’ birth,” said Rev. Fred Redekop of Floradale Mennonite Church. “It’s a real challenge, I think, to continue to proclaim that message, rather than the commercial one, because we’re all part of it.”
It’s easy to be concerned that Christmas has become too commercialized, Redekop noted, yet that commercialization is one aspect of the Christmas season that is difficult to control – even for him.
“I will often say that this year we won’t buy gifts. Well, I’m not strong enough to be able to do that,” he added with a smile.
In recent years, political correctness has sought to take the Christ out of Christmas as well. We were all reminded of that struggle last Saturday when a group of about 100 people gathered in front of Kitchener City Hall in an effort to “gently remind them that Christmas is about Christ,” said one person at the rally.
“They felt that people were missing the truer meaning of Christmas,” said Rev. Hans Borch of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church of the crowd at city hall, “and it’s tough to keep that in mind when stores start decorating right after Remembrance Day and they’re focusing on what to buy as opposed to a deeper meaning.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the stresses and joys of gift-giving, and while Fr. David Lewis of St. Teresa of Avila in Elmira agrees that we can all go a little bit overboard with the gift-giving around this time of year, there still exists a clear link between the gift giving associated with Christmas, and the deeper meaning of the season.
“We give gifts to one another because God gave a gift to us in the form of his son. There’s a logic to it (and) to the commercialization of Christmas,” he said. “All we would hope is that the foundation isn’t lost sight of and that we get together and welcome people into our homes and gather as families and friends, and we give gifts to one another because of what has been given to us.”
Lewis says that the loss of the foundation of the Christmas spirit is regrettable, but what can be done to try and revive and reinvigorate that spirit into society as a whole?
“I have my work cut out for me,” Lewis laughed. “Most that come (to church each week) don’t need to be reminded of why we’re here, but it doesn’t hurt to give that reminder and to express the truth of why we do what we do at this time of year.”
For Borch, the task lies within him as a religious leader to spread the word as much as he can. After all, he agrees with Lewis’ sentiment that those who routinely make it into church don’t need to be reminded of Jesus’ story.
The real work is taking it beyond the walls of the church.
“I guess the only way we really do that is to let people know that we have services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and everyone is invited to join us for that,” Borch said. “Those aren’t closed services. And making my way around the community, in coffee shops, and letting people see that there is a presence here in the community other than the person that’s trying to sell you something.”
All three men agree the religious community within Elmira and the rest of the township is strong, which bodes well for the continued understanding of why we celebrate Christmas.
Redekop said that his congregation, which had been steadily growing older in the 19 years he has preached there, has enjoyed an influx of young adults and their children in the past few years.
The key is to get the younger generation interested in the church community by embracing different traditions than their grandparents may be used to, he added.
“We do a lot of blending of ideas and listening. We try to listen to both sides because people come to worship for different reasons and we try to meet those different reasons. Some people come for the sermons and some come for the hymn singing and the music, so it’s a real challenge to make worship meaningful for all those groups.”
St. James Lutheran also boasts a sizable congregation, particularly at Christmas. Their Christmas pageant this year included over 40 youth, and the church was full, said Borch.
“It was wonderful. I think there was a real feeling of joy there with the children telling their story,” he said.
Lewis has perhaps noticed the way the township embraces God and the real meaning for the season more than most. He is new to the town, having moved to the St. Teresa parish in July of this year, and he is astounded by the ways in which people all around town – not just in his congregation – are willing to express their faith so openly.
“I find there is a kindheartedness, a gentleness, and almost an innocence in the community that’s beautiful. I like being a part of that having grown up in the city and spending most of my time in the city, but there’s a little different atmosphere here in Elmira.”
And what about those who only decide to visit church on Christmas and Easter? That is not something to be worried or concerned about, all three say. What is important is the fact that people feel that connection to God and to Jesus this time of year, because after all, that is what Christmas is all about.
“As much as I would love to see them here all the time, it’s also recognized that there are other forces that come into play in terms of drawing people away,” said Borch. “Sometimes Sunday is the only time that they can actually do something together as a family, and church is not always the first answer that comes to mind.”
For Redekop, Christmas is a time of celebration and renewal – no matter how many times per year a person goes to one of his services.
“I can’t lament if people only come at Christmas and Easter. Let’s not lament that, but celebrate that they find this time of year inspiring for their faith, for their family, and for their journey.”