Losing the meaning of Christmas

Losing the meaning of Christmas

Most Australians love the family Christmas, but still think something is missing.

Bible Society Australia conducted a little research via Banjo Advertising this year about the Australian public attitude towards Christmas.

The results are weird. On the one hand, Australians (82% of us) are positive about the silly season, but 64% of us think something is missing.  A whopping 94% of us like spending time with loved ones at Christmas, but 65% of us still think that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. Around the family swimming pool on Christmas afternoon, sun shining and presents opened, there remains an emptiness.

There’s a meaning gap.

It strikes me that our positivity about family at Christmas time doesn’t sit easily with all of the accounts of marriage breakdown, financially stressed households and children gone wild. Perhaps, like the legendary soldiers of World War I singing ‘Silent Night’ to each other across the trenches, Christmas brings a brief truce into difficult family circumstances. It’s a day to focus on our blessings, and be thankful.

But the real story is in the gap between our positivity about family and our simultaneous sense that something is missing at Christmas time. Obviously, family connections, while good, are not enough. The bonds of blood are strong, but they are not sufficient to stave off a sense that something even deeper than family is required for true human flourishing and a real sense that life matters.

Obviously, Christians feel that the real meaning of Christmas is found in the arrival of Jesus, born in a stable, attended by shepherds, angels and wise men, and thought to be the son of God.

The man who shaped Western culture and popularised the notion that human beings could be spiritually ‘born again’, saved from sin and receive eternal life. Behind the tinsel and nativity sets, you can’t get much deeper than that.

Christians pack an enormous amount of meaning into Christmas, since it marks the beginning of the life of the figure we adore and whose life and teachings we seek to follow. 70% of us believers think the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. No surprise there (unless you expected it to be a bit higher).

Churches are always hoping that Christmas will spark something in the hearts of our friends and family who might not have given Jesus much thought as adults. It’s a great time to actually read a Gospel and rediscover the old story.

But the real surprise for me is that 51.9% of ‘non-Christians’ think that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost.

They are not finding satisfaction in spending, nor in sun and surf, although those things are good and they wouldn’t want to lose them. Nor are they finding the meaning they seek in families, despite finding home time a highlight of the season.

Half of the non-Christian world is still searching for the missing element, something that they feel used to be there and has now faded away. It’s not something natural (like sun and sand). It’s not something material (like great gifts). It’s not something relational (like family). It’s something else. What is it?

Greg Clarke is CEO of Bible Society Australia

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