A Personal Response

My own culture has affected the way I study and think about Christmas. In America, Christmas has become highly secularized as people focus on material things like gifts and food. Growing up my family also incorporated these secular aspects of Christmas, but my parents were always quick to tell us kids what the true meaning of Christmas ought to be for us as believers—a celebration of the birth of Jesus, praising and thanking God for sending His Son to live a life on earth and die for our sins. Today my family celebrates Christmas through both secular and religious lenses. We exchange gifts, receive a present from “Santa”, and spend all day cooking and drinking coffee; but we also attend a Christmas Eve service, set up a nativity scene front and center to remind us of the true reason for Christmas, and spend time thanking God for His ultimate gift to us. My culture works alongside my family of believers to make Christmas what it is for me. It’s a time of nostalgia, joy, family, Jesus, and thanksgiving. This is all to say that my view of Christmas is greatly influenced by my upbringing in an American Christian home. 

Studying Christmas in Austria and Italy has in turn influenced my cultural being. Both cultures are impacted by the importance of family, and Italy is particularly family and religion oriented. I am especially excited to be home for Christmas this year because of the family’s role in an Italian Christmas. I look forward to being with my immediate family members to celebrate everything that Christmas means to us. Studying Christmas in Austria, especially interviewing my German teacher, reminded me that there are so many people who don’t know Jesus and the amazing gift He is. I’ll be praying for people like Sonja a little extra this Christmas season. I don’t know how I would celebrate Christmas without my family and faith. 

I think it’s important to recognize others’ and our own attitudes about Christmas. I know how much Christmas, family, and faith mean to me, but Christmas can mean a lot to people in Austria and Italy too. As I was thinking about this, I found myself feeling judgmental of people (primarily in Austria) for not celebrating Christmas like I do with a focus on family and religion. But now I’m thinking about how much I celebrate Christmas in a secular fashion. As much as I want to say that Jesus is the only reason I celebrate Christmas, I can’t because that would be a lie. There is something about the secular aspects of Christmas that mean so much to me—a pine tree covered with lights and ornaments standing tall in the living room, drinking coffee with my family while we open our stockings full of trinkets from Santa, giving and receiving gifts I wanted with my family, watching Christmas movies about Santa and his little elves, and listening to songs about roasting chestnuts and falling snow. What’s wrong with celebrating Christmas in these ways? Is it bad to participate in a secular Christmas as Christians? Are they only bad if they distract us from the birth of Jesus? My point is that I am in no position to judge other cultures for celebrating Christmas without the influence of religion. While I believe that Jesus is and should be the whole point of Christmas, I can’t expect people in Austria and Italy to believe the same when I celebrate a secularized Christmas too. 

Going forward this Christmas season, I want to look forward to celebrating my faith with my family. I want to wholly embrace our secular traditions, maybe adopt some new ones inspired by Austria and Italy, and make a conscious effort to focus on Jesus’ birth. I am thrilled to sit around a Christmas dinner with my parents, brother, and sister (maybe I’ll suggest homemade lasagna this year). I can’t wait to hang all our ornaments on the tree and watch the lights twinkle; and I bet I could get my mom to make Austrian gingerbread with me. I want to find a local Christmas market to stroll through, and ask my family for seafood on Christmas Eve (even though we’re not Catholic). Besides that, I also want to make a habit of starting each day this Christmas season with a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sending Jesus. I’ll pray for those who don’t believe in Him, for those who don’t have a family to celebrate with, and for those who may not be able to give and receive gifts from loved ones. This exciting Christmas project has inspired me to be extra grateful for Jesus, Mom, Dad, Grady, Abigail, the pups, and all our Christmas traditions at home. I’m inspired by Austria and Italy’s Christmas traditions of gingerbread, panettone, and quality family time. Are you as excited for the Christmas season as me now? I hope so. It’s the most wonderful time of the year—so Merry Christmas, Fröhliche Weihnachten, and Buon Natale! May your days be merry and bright. 

Auf Wiedersehen, ciao!