A couple of weeks ago I was in a large department store buying supplies for the filming of the  Cancelling Christmas special. The lady serving me, your average middle aged female shop assistant, asked out of interest what we were doing. When I explained it was for a TV show for Channel 7 she probed further about the details. Eventually I told her it was for a show called Cancelling Christmas. She looked horrified and responded with an assertive "No - you can’t cancel Christmas, it’s wonderful!” She is right and most Australians would agree with her but for many, Christmas is not always a pleasant experience.

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"AN ORGY OF EXCESS"? In the face of rampant commercialism and the personal conflicts that can arise at Christmas, Karl Faase, host of the upcoming Christmas special, Cancelling Christmas, takes a look at why it is important we celebrate Christmas.

 

"(L)ess and less people actually believe in the reason we celebrate Christmas and it's just an orgy of spending and excess...(P)erhaps we ought to consider cancelling the celebration altogether?"

I know several people who struggle with emotional balance and mental health and for them, the pressure and tension of Christmas is very difficult. Christmas is the most likely time of the year for people to experience depression. The suicide rate is higher during December than any other month. In fact many counseling services report an increase in referrals and appointments after the Christmas rush is over. 

Many families find that the “must have” Christmas gatherings just end in tension and conflict. They spend the day with people they don't see very often and don’t get on with. Alcohol is often consumed to excess and the combination of family tension and alcohol can lead to disastrous results. 

There is also the financial impact. There is enormous social pressure to buy bigger, better and more extravagant gifts each year. A survey of 2,500 people has found that 37 per cent of respondents said they were willing to spend up to $1,000 on Christmas presents and from experience we know much of this will be added to the $50 billion Australians hold on their credit cards. This uncontrolled spending by a percentage of the community will result in credit cards bills for the next 12 months or more.

All of this should be placed in the context of a community that is slowly moving away from the Christian heritage of its nation. In other words, less and less people actually believe in the reason we celebrate Christmas and it's just an orgy of spending and excess. Given all of these factors perhaps we ought to consider cancelling the celebration altogether?

So why hold onto the Christmas celebration as part of the yearly cycle of events each year? While there are actually many good reasons to maintain Christmas, let’s explore just three. The first is that it is actually not only good for our economy, it is probably essential. Mark McCrindle, of McCrindle Research, has said that Christmas is worth about $1 billion in retail spending for our economy. If you multiply that with holidays, celebrations, parties etc., it increases around 20 times. So, if Christmas is worth around $20 billion to our economy, we actually can’t afford to cancel Christmas. 

There is another side to this and that is the “social” capital of Christmas. While there is some tension in pockets of the community, for many, if not most, Christmas is a significant and positive social time. People mix and spend time together in end-of-year Christmas gatherings, they send cards expressing their appreciation and they buy gifts that express love. On top of all this are the wider community gatherings like Carols by Candlelight, special Christmas events for charities and Christmas Day lunches provided for the marginalised. We will never be able to measure the impact of this social capital but we would probably all agree that our community would be much worse off if Christmas did not occur.

It would be shallow indeed to suggest that the reason we should celebrate Christmas is that it is an economically astute decision. There must be more to it than that! One significant issue is whether Christmas was ever a real event. Does Jesus end up in the same reality basket as Santa? Is Jesus the result of an overactive religious and zealous imagination or is the birth of Jesus a historical event worth remembering? It is important to note that most historians and church leaders don’t believe that 25th December was the actual birth date of Jesus. What the church and wider community is celebrating to not a specific date but celebrating an actual birth of a real person whose life, teaching and death changed the face of human history. The evidence for the birth of Jesus, while not specific regarding date, is certainly an overwhelming fact of history.

Finally and probably most importantly, we celebrate Christmas because it represents new life and changed lives. Every year across the world millions of people are impacted by the person of Jesus and His message of grace. As annoying as this is to the growing tide of militant atheists, humanity is still responding to the Christian message. The first Christmas is actually about God taking the initiative and breaking into human history to allow people to find eternal life in a relationship with God. Each year our community has the opportunity to be amazed by God’s gracious act of love and to respond. The fact that many are not impacted by this message and do not embrace this truth is no reason to trash the event. Every Christian and every church has the opportunity and responsibility to remember the origins of Christmas and to point people to the Jesus of history, beyond the baby in a manger. This is reason alone to hang onto Christmas.

Cancelling Christmas will be shown on Channel 7 at 8am Christmas Day and on the Australian Christian Channel at 5.30pm.