There is about a 1/365 chance that Jesus was born on 25 December. The Catholics ask you not to forget the mass in Christmas and the Protestants ask that you not forget the Christ. But Christmas never has been a purely Christian holiday, its origins a mash up of various and sundry holidays from Romans, Vikings, cults, and the good people of Coca Cola (who commissioned an artist to create an image of Santa in a bright, Coca Cola-red suit). The holiday is rooted as deeply in Saturnalia excess of sex and feasting as it is in gift giving and piety.
It’s easy to be dismissive of the emphasis on rampant consumption in the guise of gift giving. There’s always someone who points out that this misses the point of the day but in fact that is as much a part of the holiday as nativity scenes. The holiday would not be so popular if it weren’t malleable, something that most anyone can shape into a day of their own design, even if it is a day for Chinese food and a movie.
For me, the real magic of Christmas is similar to the magic of Las Vegas. Who would think that such a popular tourist destination would spring up in the middle of the desert, and yet there it is. Who would think that Christmas should be considered a time of warmth and light just days after the year’s shortest day, the period of time when winter begins its most bleak weather? How absurd and absurdly wonderful is that?
The miracle of Christmas is simply and wonderfully this: we manage to create a time so very different from the time we’re in. Cold becomes warm. Dark becomes light. A time when nature yields so little becomes a time when people give so much. And for that, it doesn’t really matter whether your celebration tends towards the prurient or the puritan. That alone is enough to make it a “most wonderful time of the year.”