Emmanuel. God with us. God fully present in the human condition, as much in the raucous celebration of the Saturnalia as in the witness of a peaceful sunset. As much in the worried crowds on Christmas Eve combing through the bargain racks on George St. as in the half hour of silent prayer. God is not, cannot be absent. Although, of course, our perception of whether God is present or not may change, that is about us and not about God.
When our Christian ancestors first observed our pagan ancestors making plum puddings and putting holly branches in their homes, and were told that all of this was a celebration of the great cycles of nature in which the new life of Spring invariably triumphs over the death of winter, their reaction was not to try and stamp all that stuff out. It was rather, to recognise that the pattern expressed mistily in the cycles of the seasons derived ultimately from the God who made the Heavens and the Earth; and that it was expressed in its fullness and with crystal clarity in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is responsible for the patterns of the planet he made, and therefore can be discerned in the celebrations of those patterns. The bit our Christian ancestors added was the flabbergasting insight that God is willing to come and be present with us in both pattern and celebration.
Emmanuel. God with us.
I suppose also, our Christian forbears added one thing more important. That is that God is always Emmanuel. Always with us. The purpose of a celebration is not so much to elevate one day above all others but to remind us that every day is an occasion for God to be present with us. "What separates us from God," says Thomas Keating, "Is the idea that we are separated." The celebration of a sacred day is one more small hammer chipping away at that most foolish and most obstinate of ideas.