The real meaning of Christmas is drowned out under the feasting, drinking, parties, dinners, holidays, extravagant shopping and excessive gift-giving, and the stresses and crime often associated with them.
For example, how often do we hear Jesus mentioned (compared to Santa) in the lead up to Christmas, on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day in the media, in shopping centres, in general conversation, especially with children, even in many Christian homes?
Surely Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the "God With Us", the Saviour of the World, is the reason for the season and, with His name clearly embedded in its title, why is He now almost totally ignored when this season is mentioned and celebrated?
I remember when we moved to Brisbane a few years ago, we bought a house in a street which had Christmas decorations displayed on the roof tops and in the front gardens of nearly every house. Although we were not in the habit of decorating our previous houses in this way, it didn't seem possible to live in this street and not do so.
Interestingly, all the decorations displayed were of Santa, reindeer, sleighs, soldiers, Christmas trees, gnomes, and the like. Nothing even closely resembled the real story of Christmas in a whole street full of striking illuminated decorations.
So, as well as being "shamed" into installing Christmas decorations for the first time, here was my big chance to introduce something that told the real story of Christmas, and to do it in a way that outshone those secular displays.
Our "out-of-character" display, showing Mary and Joseph with Jesus in the manger, shepherds, angels and a very large bright star overhead, gained a lot of attention and discussion in the neighbourhood and gave us an excellent opportunity to share the real meaning of Christmas with our neighbours as we competed with them for the most eye-catching display.
I continue to marvel at why people are more intent on telling the fairy tale about Santa from the North Pole rather than sharing the facts about Jesus from heaven.
Although both Santa and Jesus come bearing gifts, they are hardly worth comparing. Things that are of benefit only on earth from a fictional character like the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny versus a gift that benefits this life and the next from the Creator of the universe.
No competition there!
Another important difference appears when we consider to whom these gifts are given?
Kids are told by parents and others that they must be good to receive their gifts from Santa and are often bribed into acceptable behaviour or performance with the threat that Santa won't even visit them unless they do.
Just to illustrate, here's a chorus from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", often sung at Christmas time.
"He sees you when you're sleeping,How contrary to the real message of Christmas is that?
He knows when you're a awake;
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good, for goodness' sake!
Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry,
Better not pout, I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is comin' to town."
Being good to receive gifts from Santa is the antithesis of what Christmas is all about and totally turns on its head the reason for the season.
Compare the Santa song with the Bible's description of Jesus' mission and conditions for receiving gifts from him.
"I didn't come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners."
(Jesus own words recorded in Luke 5 : 32 CEV)
St Paul affirmed this when he wrote to Timothy: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."(1 Timothy 1 : 15 CEV)
How about we Christians consider restoring Jesus to his rightful place in our Christmas conversations and celebrations?
We have lost enough ground to the secular western world already without losing out in the proper celebration of the Christian seasons themselves.
I can handle parties and celebrations as long as we remember what we are celebrating. I can handle trees and lights and tinsel as long as Jesus gets a look in and his true worth is recognised.
After all, the message that Christians have been given to tell the world is that
"God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them".
(2 Corinthians 5 : 19 NLT)
Surely we can do this at Easter and Christmas - at the very least.