With the commercialization of Christmas, the true meaning of the holiday is often overlooked. BYU–Hawaii students said they are adamant in creating traditions that will help them remember that Christ is the reason for the celebration.
In 2017, consumers in the United States expected to spend $906 on average on Christmas gifts, according to a study published by Gallup, which is the highest amount the survey has ever recorded.
Ethan Hopkin, a freshman majoring in TESOL from Ohio, said, “The spiritual aspect is the aspect. It is what Christmas exactly is. I think gifts and the Christmas tree add to the ambiance of Christmas. It creates a Christmas atmosphere, and since the main focus of Christmas is the spiritual aspect, creating an atmosphere of Christmas helps to create a religious focus. I think if you have the right mindset, decorations and the giving of gifts can strongly encourage charity within yourself and unite families.”
To focus on the true meaning of Christmas, Hopkin said his family centers their celebration on reading about the Savior’s birth in the Bible and Book of Mormon. “I read the Christmas scriptures leading up to Christmas day. My family has an advent calendar my grandmother made for us. It has a verse from the scriptures for everyday of the month up to Christmas.”
Scripture study is not the only focus of Hopkin’s Christmas traditions. He said he does engage in some of the more secular elements of Christmas, but there is a point when Christmas can become superficial.
“If people get too obsessed with giving the right gift, it can distract you from the real meaning of Christmas. You are showing you love someone by giving them a gift but driving yourself insane over getting the perfect gift. That keeps you from emulating the Savior through charity.”
Finding the perfect gift is something Andraya Tam, a freshman with an undeclared major from California, said it is a problem she faces when trying to buy gifts for her siblings, but she does not think it takes away from her religious focus of Christmas.
“Buying gifts can be distracting to some people, but I have grown up in The Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], so Christmas has always been spiritual for me. Since Christ gave us all his gifts, we also need to give to be like him.”
Emulating the Savior is a critical part of observing Christmas, said Tam, because it is how you feel God's spirit. Tam revealed she and her family give gifts to families who do not have enough money to buy their own. Along with service, Tam encouraged everyone to center their celebrations on family because that is a way to focus Christmas on love.
“For me Christmas is about family. I spend the whole day with my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. We open all our gifts and we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together.”
Tam said spending time with family on Christmas is significant because of the joy it brings. She encouraged students staying at BYU–Hawaii for Christmas to get together with friends because it makes the holiday joyous and more than just a day of presents and decorations.
According to Sydney Stewart, a freshman majoring in TESOL from California, the gifts and decorations bring her closer to the religious message of the holiday. “I don’t think the over commercialized part of Christmas takes away from the spiritual part. Personally, seeing the lights and other people giving gifts makes me think of Christmas and Christ’s birth.”
She also agreed with Tam and said spending time with family around Christmas helps her feel Christ’s love. Part of Stewart’s family tradition is acting out the Nativity or the account of Christ’s birth, and she said she loves how that tradition made her feel. Overall, Stewart wants Christmas to include gift giving and stories about Santa, but not at the expense of overlooking Christ’s birth.
“With my family in the future, I want to emphasize why we have Christmas and why Santa is not the focus, [but] just a symbol which can help represent Christ.”
Alyssa Wilson, a freshman majoring in marine biology from Oregon, said although Santa and other symbols of Christmas are not necessarily religious, they still can lead others to the real reason why we observe Christmas. “It has become a secular holiday, which is good for people who aren’t Christians because they can think about Christ. The commercialization of Christmas makes more non-Christians interested in Christ's birth.”
Wilson explained she participates in the Light the World campaign that was started by the Church to keep the holiday genuinely Christ-centered. “For a couple of years, the Church has been doing the Light the World campaign, and I really like that because it gives you something to do every day to remind you what you're celebrating during December.”
Wilson also recommended listening to Christmas music to combat the stress of the holidays. She explained uplifting music is everywhere around this time of year because even famous artists sing about Christ.