Christmas: Where the Sacred and the Secular Collide

by Heather Norman Smith

There are two versions of Christmas. They share the same date on the calendar and the same holiday name, but they are two very different celebrations.

First, there’s the holy celebration of the birth of the Christ child—the One who came to rescue mankind from eternal separation from God, demonstrating God’s deep love for humanity. We sing His praises and extol His goodness.

Then, there’s the Christmas celebration where a decorated evergreen tree becomes the centerpiece of our home. We sing songs about reindeer, bake cookies shaped like little men, and stress about finding suitable gifts for everyone on our list.

Through the years, I’ve struggled to reconcile the two Christmases. I tend to focus primarily on the birth of Jesus up until the Sunday before December 25th. Our church play with its nativity images is always the spiritual highlight of the season. Then my mind and heart give way to the excitement of family gatherings, classic holiday movies, and my children’s faces on Christmas morning.

But should there be a balance? Should we entertain that which distracts us from the manger?

Some time ago, I was struck by an unusual comparison: Christmastime is like a wedding with a reception. The vows and exchanging of rings at a wedding are holy, the sacred part. But it is often followed by a let-loose party. The reception is the celebration of what has taken place, though it rarely resembles the ceremony. At the reception, guests focus on the emotion of the day, if not specifically the reason for the emotion. In a similar way, Christmas blends the sacred and the secular; and the latter depends on the former.

All the warm and fuzzy, less-than-holy feelings of Christmas, find their roots in a singular emotion, created by, and embodied in God Himself: Love. We have love because He came. And the joy of the season, even feelings that don’t directly relate to the Christ child (magic, wonder, coziness, generosity, anticipation), are because of Him.

So maybe there is room for the fun of Frosty and Rudolph after all.

Let’s talk about the wedding crashers—unbelievers who celebrate the day set aside to honor Christ’s birth. Our Lord’s name defines this day, yet many who don’t claim Him still celebrate. It’s like not knowing the bride and groom but showing up for the party anyway.

They’ll sing carols and bake cookies, string lights, and give gifts, yet want nothing to do with the Christ of Christmas. But Christ came for them, too, whether they believe it or not. And while true joy can’t be found outside of a relationship with Him, a semblance of it exists in their singular version of Christmas, even when they haven’t met the Source.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll meet Him at the party. When Jingle Bells fades into O Holy Night on the radio, maybe they’ll be drawn to Bethlehem.

A collision of the sacred and the secular at Christmas really seems fitting since that’s what happened when Christ was born. The Holy One took on human flesh. A perfect God broke the plane between Heaven and Earth. The Most High took up residence in a fallen world. That’s the reality of Christmas. Our celebrations don’t have to be at odds when we are secure in His lordship in our lives.

So, as you sing Jingle Bells, think of Him. As you think about the manger, thank Him for the presents under the tree.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17 NKJV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Heather Norman Smith is an author of Christian Fiction set in her home state of North Carolina. Her goal is to entertain and encourage while illuminating the redemptive love of God. Learn more about her work at and

Join the conversation: What do you prioritize in your holiday planning?


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