Christmas is Broken

January 3, 2008 by

Now that the Christmas season is over (unless you celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, in which case keep on rockin’!) I think it’s fair to say that Christmas is broken. And by that I mean our cultural celebration of Christmas in the 21st century America.

In my family Christmas is over a month long, stretching from Thanksgiving to New Year’s as we visit family scattered across the country and exchange gifts. Lots of gifts. You haven’t seen lots of gifts until you’ve seen multiple grandbabies.

Some of our family doesn’t believe in the spiritual celebration of Christmas and the holiday becomes simply about gifts and food and family. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but it’s missing the point. And as we continue to celebrate Christmas year after year with the same massive pile of gifts, it’s easy for us to miss the point as well, even though we whole-heartedly believe in the reason for the season.

I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling and I see evidence of that as more and more people are coming up with alternative ways to celebrate Christmas than a pile of stuff. People are reimagining Christmas.

Mark Batterson’s family has started a new tradition of anonymously blessing someone. Our own Brad Abare and his family are doing away with presents this year and instead taking a family missions trip to Haiti. It’s even happening on a larger and more organized scale with the Advent Conspiracy.

My wife and I decided to do something similar for our own family. Next year (we’ve already cut back this year and redirected the extra money to our adoption fund) we’ve decided to spend less and instead give the money to our kids and let them decide where to donate the money. That way they can experience giving and give to whatever excites them (not simply what Mom and Dad think is important/good/cool).

My point in all of this is that sometimes good ideas turn into well-intentioned traditions that turn into meaningless and empty motions. It’s easy to forget the original good idea that started it all, and something good becomes less so.

I think it’s happened to Christmas for some of us, and I’d venture a guess that it’s happened to church as well. Some of the ideas and traditions that make up church have lost their meaning and become lifeless traditions. Just like Christmas, I think church is often broken. And the best way to remedy that problem is just like many are doing with Christmas–reimagine it and come up with new traditions that manage to get back to those original good ideas.

Churches need to find new ways to connect with jaded people. We need new ways to communicate the greatest story ever told. If your church isn’t changing your neighborhood, maybe it’s time reimagine church.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

10 Responses to “Christmas is Broken”

  • David Springstead
    January 3, 2008

    What a fantastic article. I think you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head. I know that the Christmas Eve services this year had fewer attenders than last year, a trend that has been going on now for several years, and the celebration just seems to be by rote now. There’s no excitement, no real participation by the congregants in the season. Re-imagine it all!

     | Permalink
  • Michael Buckingham
    January 4, 2008

    This year my son asked for money for a missions trip he is taking this summer to Honduras. He made an interesting observation.
    “It’s kinda funny that people gave me money for Jesus’ birthday.”
    It made us both laugh. Imagine, all your friends are there at YOUR birthday party and it comes time for presents and everyone hands each other money and gifts and leaves you to simply watch the celebration.
    Hmmmm…what did we give Christ to mark our celebration of His birth?

     | Permalink
  • Zack Williamson
    January 4, 2008

    My wife and I were married in December 1995. Due to lack of finances, our first tree was a small bonsai that we decorated. To go all the way with it, we ate our Christmas Eve dinner at a Japanese steakhouse. It was nice.
    The tradition rolled on over the years as we brought in Christmas traditions from certain countries or cultures like Mexico, Hawaii, England, Japan, etc… ways they decorate coupled with a dinner from that culture. Our kids love it! Hawaii was fun with our decorated palm tree which the kids claimed for their room afterwards! We also learned a cracker in England is not something you put in soup. The internet makes finding these traditions so easy. Here’s an example… Christmas Traditions in England
    This past year we started a church plant and beginning next Christmas we desire to bring this tradition into the church by centering it around countries or cultures where missionaries serve. This, we hope, will bring somewhat of a global contextualization to the Christmas story that is fun and eye opening. We would also be able to focus our giving on the missions or ministries in those particular cultures during this time.
    A dinner that reflects the culture we are celebrating Christ through (breaking bread together) seems like a great way to have a Christmas Eve service. No one man show, but rather the church celebrating Christ together as a community, pooling resources to promote the cause of Christ world-wide, and leaving our children with a global heart and a tradition that centers upon Christ.

     | Permalink
  • Kath
    January 4, 2008

    Here was an interesting blog post I ran across recently –
    This year seemed to be the year that everyone (non-Christians included) wanted to scale back, and remember what made Christmas truly important to them. It’s sad that I saw more reflection among my non-Christian friends.

     | Permalink
  • Jesse
    January 4, 2008

    YES! I agree, it’s happening, as it should. And it should, even more, in the Church. THANK YOU!
    Thanks for giving ideas about how that should happen. is a site that’s talking about another way to do Christmas.

     | Permalink
  • Jeremy Scheller
    January 4, 2008

    Broken indeed.
    It’s interesting that Christmas really started as an attempt to refocus pagan holidays that fall around the Winter Solstice. And now we’ve given it right back.
    I don’t know why my kids need a new toy from every relative…Now, if they would have gotten frankencense, gold and myrrh, well, that would have been totally different.
    Who doesn’t love myrrh?

     | Permalink
  • Judyth
    January 8, 2008

    In Australia and UK tere has been a movement called Alternativity – that is alternate ways of celebrating the nativity and Christmas season and they have great resources on the web for personal and group worship and family experiences.

     | Permalink
  • jim
    January 11, 2008

    Is it a publicity stunt? in some ways, yes. Should we be giving back to our neighbors anyway? Of course. But sometimes we get so busy that we don’t think about it. Thus, a church decides to gently remind its people, “hey, you’ve been blessed greatly. now go bless someone else.” Now if a church did this every week, month or maybe even every year, I would question the motivation and maybe even the legality. But once? Nah. It’s pretty much the same as planning a one-day ‘revival’ service and putting that money into a speaker, a soloist, advertising, etc. It’s just another form of reaching the community. Check this out if you don’t believe me.
    Read some of these stories and tell me that people’s lives weren’t affected. Those giving and those receiving had an opportunity to see what can happen when we give and maybe, just maybe were more likely to make blessing someone a regular occurence.

     | Permalink
  • Matt
    January 17, 2008

    I know I’m probably stating the obvious when I say that Jesus was more than likely NOT born in winter let alone on December 25, so it does not surprise me that the holiday has deteriorated into a capitalist, consumer-driven, marketing scheme. We should be celebrating our savior’s birth every day of the year.

     | Permalink
  • MacQuarrie
    February 1, 2008

    Jesus was most likely born during the jewish festival of Sukkot; it’s prophetically linked to the coming of Messiah, and He was born in a sukkah (stable). Sukkah falls about a week after Yom Kippur in late September/early October.
    But Christmas is what the world knows, so we should take advantage of that and set a good example.

     | Permalink

Evangelism & Outreach