The Christmas season is one full of joy and warmth. One in which we focus on almsgiving and charity. When we spend time with the ones we love, and revel in the birth of our Lord and Savior.

Or, at least, it used to be. 

Today it has become grossly overshadowed by consumerism, and romanticized to the point of no return. Black Friday, nagging commercials, puke-worthy Hallmark movies and holiday stress distract us from the true reason for the season. 

If you celebrate Christmas the same way an atheist celebrates Christmas, you're doing something wrong. In our secular world, it gets hard to not get caught up in the materialism of it all, but surely we should at least be going to church on Christmas Day, right? 

Unfortunately, I know this isn't the case with some Christian sects. It's no wonder why so many people from the outside looking in don't take our zeal for the faith seriously. This is why we get labeled hypocrites. We won't even take time out of our day to celebrate the birth of our Savior, just so we can stay at home and indulge in gifts and gorge on sweets. It's pitiful.

How did we allow ourselves to get to this point? A point where we are more worried about presents, proposals and piddly matters instead of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. 

It all boils down to two faulty ideas about church history. Stick with me-

Misinformed Idea #1: The Virgin Mary and Joseph were a young couple in love.

True Church Teaching: Mary was a temple virgin who was entrusted to the older, widowed Joseph when she came of age.

Everyone knows that the Theotokos found favor with the Lord and became pregnant with Jesus Christ. They know that Joseph, upon finding out about her pregnancy, tried to quietly "divorce" her (in reality, he considered stoning her to death). And we know that through the archangel Gabriel, both were informed that the child the Theotokos carried was God incarnate. 

"Mary, did you know?"

Yes. Yes she did.

What people don't know is that this story is not one of romance and scandal, but struggle and sacrifice. Joseph was at least middle-aged and had adult children (the so-called "siblings" of Christ). Being widowed, he took in a young girl who he then discovered was pregnant. He treated her not as a loving husband, but a father. Which is why his reaction to her pregnancy isn't surprising, but appropriate for any dad of that time. Thankfully, archangel Gabriel stepped in before he acted too rashly. 

Over time, and throughout different permutations of Christianity, this teaching morphed into a more palatable love story. Being associated with gift giving, as well as this “love” story, Christmas is now one of the most popular times to be engaged.

In true Butterfly-Effect fashion, the teaching that Mary and Joseph were young and in love lead to the Hallmark Channel's chokehold on cheesy Christmas romances (which I am guilty of indulging in).

Misinformed Idea #2: Santa is basically St. Nicholas.

True Church Teaching: St. Nicholas was a credit to the faith and a model of Christ. Santa is not.

Everyone knows about St. Nicholas in some aspect. Whether you revere him as a compassionate upholder of the faith, a miracle-working saint, or a puncher of heretical faces, you have some idea of who he is, and how he came to be known as Santa. 

The bishop of Myra is the basis for every Santa precursor, from Sinterklaas to Mikulas. These iterations are all centered around the ideals St. Nicholas embodied. And then came Santa Claus.

Unsurprisingly, the Puritans co-opted Sinterklaas, and anglicized him, birthing Santa Claus. They stripped him of his bishop's vestments and made him a plump, unseemly thing. This chubby doppelganger was intended to serve as a Quaker's version of elf-on-the-shelf, overseeing the evils committed during rowdy Christmas Eve romps.

From there, this roly-poly peeping tom was spread throughout western media through books, cartoons, and advertisements, with Coca-Cola rocketing him into full-blown stardom. Ever since, movies and holiday specials have revolved around him, with him being touted as our culture's only "positive male icon".

It's hard to see these "positives" when St. Nicholas, a man who saved children from death, women from prostitution, and men from wrongful punishment, ballooned into a consumeristic, god-like character. 

This has obvious repercussions.

Repercussion #1: We lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas.

I've heard stories from my father, his sisters, and cousins about St. Nicholas day in communist Romania. It was the most exciting day of the year, and all they got was fruit in their shoes. There were no flashy displays, or parades, or large gifts. There was good food, family and church. That's all we need during this holiday season. Not to worry about putting in cyber Monday orders and slaving away in my own homemade hell of gluing together the most ridiculous clay star garland. But I digress...

Repercussion #2: Parents worry too much about "Christmas Magic" and putting on a show.

Similar to the point above, but much more directed at the idea of having elves on shelves, fairy dust on countertops, and soot tracked across carpets. We, as parents, don't have to jump through hoops to bring joy to our kids this Christmas. I don't remember many "Christmas-y" activities. The ones that I do remember were making loads of paper snowflakes with my sisters every snow day, going to cut-down our Christmas tree as a family, watching my sisters in the town Christmas parade, and singing along to White Christmas in an empty movie theater.

None of these were time intensive. They didn't take my parents so much extra effort that they were too tired to spend time with us. And it certainly wasn't just a reason to post on social media. It was family time. Which is one of the greatest Christmas gifts of all.

Repercussion #3: Kids can start to associate "white lies" about Christmas with actual lies about their faith.

This happened to me as a child. Santa/St. Nicholas had been so entwined with religion, that learning that Santa wasn't real meant I also started to question whether or not God existed. If this omnipotent and supernatural being who gave us so many good things and helped so many people did not exist, then why would God? Was He just another excuse to get me to behave for the other eleven months of the year? Were heaven and hell just naughty and nice lists that I tried to walk the line along, unaware that my choices were merely morally neutral?

These were the questions seven-year-old MJ had, but was too afraid to ask. Thankfully, I'm an adult now, and I know that I will not have my children wrestling with these questions, just so I can keep the "magic" alive.

So how do we rein in our secular sense of holiday cheer, and opt for a more wholesome and family-oriented experience?

Stop worrying about it so much! Don't overexert yourself. Focus on family time, and not seasonal events. Make things at home (except for a series of intricate clay ornaments numbering in the hundreds that you must then endure several hot glue gun burns to string together into an adequate looking tree adornment). 

But most of all, spend time in prayer. We should be very grateful to live in a society in which we can afford such luxuries. And very grateful to know about the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who has paved the way for us to have this feeling of joy year-round. 

Just remember, your smaller Christmas is better than the fruit in someone else's shoe.