Many of us Americans likely are able to step back and see just how much influence American culture has had on Christmas. The songs we sing, the food we eat, the day-of traditions we all enjoy (going to a movie, watching pro sports, etc.) all bear the indelible marks of America’s influence on the celebration of the Christian holiday remembering the birth of Jesus Christ.
Living in Israel has pulled back the curtain on this even more for me this year. The Jewish state certainly has a population of Christians living here who celebrate the holiday, but there are no municipal decorations on the light posts. No decorated trees adorning public squares. No music playing Christmas songs in the shopping centers (I’m partly relieved to have a break there, ha!).
Ironically, the very origination of the Christmas holiday took place less than 10 miles away from where I write this blog in Bethlehem. However, even there the number of practicing Christians has been fading rapidly over the past 10 years (that’s a blog for another day). Christmas in Bethlehem is mostly celebrated now as a tourist attraction for visiting Christians wanting to spend the day remembering the birth of a baby boy that would change the world forever.
It is in this vacuum of Christmas culture that I have become so deeply appreciative and empathetic to those Americans living in a similar one around the world. Men and women in the U.S. military, particularly. They have answered a call to serve their nation, and are doing so thousands of miles away from their closest friends and, most importantly, their families. Most of them are living in places where the thought of snow is completely laughable. They are sleeping close to their weapons, eating bland food, and working long hours. All of this to afford the rest of us Americans the right to stuff our bellies with an array of foods, in the loving and warm company of our families.
I’m grateful to experience Christmas outside of the influence of a Christian culture. It has caused my heart deep gratitude for those who do this each year. I, after all, am blessed to have my wife and daughter here to celebrate with me. Many around the world are sending Facebook messages, texts and placing Skype calls to their spouses and children today.
As you sit down around a table with your family to celebrate Christmas today (if you do celebrate it), take time to remember the thousands of those just like you who are displaced around the world, celebrating without their families. Say a prayer for them. Write them a note of some kind if you know them.And most importantly, be grateful. If you are reading this, you are most likely better off than 99% of people in the world.
Merry Christmas from Jerusalem!