Christmas vs. Nativity

If anyone is sick of the exhaustion and hyper-commercialization of Christmas with all its gaudy, modern, meaningless wrapping- or if you’re just pressed for time and need another two weeks to wait for that winter wonderland snow scene to be just right for the holidays, why not have a go at celebrating Orthodox Nativity instead on January 7th?  (Which is actually still Dec. 25th on the older Orthodox calendar.)  They’re technically the same holiday, but perhaps not at all in the face of American commercialism.

Nativity icon.
Nativity icon.

Top three reasons why Orthodox Nativity beats American Christmas:

1) Though every holiday is what you make it, Orthodox Nativity is much more intense and spiritual than the typical American Christmas.  Its preceded by a forty-day fasting from meats and dairy which is supposed to be filled instead with more prayer, scriptural reading and internal transformation.   (Such fasting is really only for healthy Orthodox strugglers.)  Church services on Nativity are followed by a week of celebrating the birth of Christ, which leads into a festal period for more holidays lasting twelve days in all; hence the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas.  (This even beats the eight days of Hanukkah; which reminds me- Orthodox altars always use a seven-branched menorah, lit during worship.)

2) No imaginary obese Santa Claus or workaholic elves or flying reindeer or magical snowmen obscuring the meaning of the holiday.  Instead, we have the very real St. Nicholas of Myra, a lean Greek bishop who didn’t break into chimneys- but did attend the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicea to defend against the heretical attacks of Arianism, and who has his own holiday.

3) Everything in the world is 1,000% cheaper after Christmas, even though rampant gift-giving still isn’t a huge thing in Nativity.  The ever-expanding season and increasing materialism so associated with Christmas simply isn’t sustainable; eventually people will tire of it.  And as spirits are ever-more sapped by this exhausting ritual, many are left feeling empty and tired instead of rejuvenated.  Too many then attempt to remedy this by simply abandoning Christmas, which is throwing out the Christ-child with the bathwater.

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Post-Christmas price drop just in time for Nativity.  [Source]
Actually, none of these are the best reason, which would be much deeper still.  Perhaps I’m being unfair in my comparison of a single holiday which has seen divergent growth in different cultures over the centuries.  There are many good reasons to still stick with regular Christmas; I could list a few.  To be even more equitable, American Christmas has never had a fair shake in any Hollywood film, and this comically-poor publicity combined with the decline of American Christianity has somewhat contributed to its national misunderstanding.  When with non-Orthodox family, I still culturally celebrate Christmas myself.  That said, Nativity is a holiday which feels markedly different from the regular holiday we all know and love, but on another level entirely.

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