I FIRST joined a church choir when I was 14, and it would be many years before I left. Christmas was a very busy time for us because aside from all the usual activities that accompany the season, we would be heavily rehearsing for the Christmas concert of our church (traditionally called a cantata).
At first, these cantatas were sung in the usual way -- in choir formation, with solos and duets here and there. As the years went by, the presentations became more elaborate. We would have mini-skits to illustrate the song, complete with costumes and props. The highlight of my choral career came when I was in my early 20’s. We had a full-blown musicale drama where I wrote major parts of the script and played the part of an angel acting as sort of a conscience for the lead character.
That was such a huge event for us that we decided to move the venue out of our 300-person capacity church into a school auditorium that could seat a thousand. And instead of having just one play date on December 25, we had to arrange for two play dates, both of which were jam-packed.
But no matter how simple or elaborate the presentation was, Christmas musicales, concerts or cantatas have just one theme -- and that is to focus on the birth of Jesus Christ, who would one day be crucified and thus save the world. So the songs would be all about this, as well as evoking feelings of love, generosity, and kindness.
This was all before I discovered that many Christmas traditions were rooted in pagan ones (like Christmas trees, gift-giving, and so on which I wrote about a couple of years ago in XMas). Even the date itself was borrowed from the annual winter solstice celebrations of pagan religions, in the hopes that the Christian version would be popularly embraced as well, and to the credit of whichever pope or bishop thought of this, indeed it was.
A few years ago, a Christian friend of mine found it amusing and ironic that a group of my friends mostly composed of agnostics and atheists gathered together for a Christmas party. But I thought there was nothing ironic about it. Whether Christians like it or not, Christmas today has become so much more than about the celebration of a person. It has become a celebration of humanity -- when friends and families come together in happy reunions, when OFW’s fly home to see their wives, husbands and children after missing them for so long, when we experience the joy of giving and receiving gifts from friends and loved ones.
One of my employees belongs to a religious sect that has a reputation for not celebrating Christmas (even though the name of Jesus Christ is proudly headlined in the name of their sect). So I asked him about this and said, “Why don’t you celebrate Christmas?”
And he said, “Oh but we do. We just don’t believe in having parties or celebrating it on December 25 because everyone knows that’s not really when Jesus was born. We actually believe in celebrating Christmas every day of our lives.”